Is It a Red Heifer?

Although this week is not Parshas Parah, since I have a very exciting and germane article for next week that fits Parshas Shemini, I am sending out this article already this week.

Question #1: Cow or Heifer?

Which is the correct translation of parah adumah, “red cow” or “red heifer”?

Question # 2: How to?

How does a parah adumah make you tahor?

Introduction

Twice a year, once as maftir on Parshas Parah, and once when we read Parshas Chukas, we read the entire Torah portion that describes how the parah adumah is prepared. We also daven fervently three times a day for Moshiach to come, at which time the taharah process using the parah adumah will again become part of our lives. This is because this process is the only way to become tahor from tumas meis, tumah that is contracted from a corpse, and, in the post-Moshiach era, we will want to be tahor whenever we can. There is much detail about the laws of parah adumah, most of which is explained in the twelve chapters of Mishnayos Parah and the fifteen chapters of the laws of parah adumah in the Rambam’s Mishnah Torah. This article will discuss many of the basic laws that will apply when we use the parah adumah to become tahor, speedily and in our days.

Three topics

The Torah’s passage about parah adumah at the beginning of parshas Chukas can be divided into three sections. The first part discusses the processing of the parah adumah –how it must be processed into the special ashes necessary to make someone tahor. The second part, which we will not discuss in this article, contains the basic rules of tumas meis. The third part explains the process whereby parah adumah ashes make someone tahor.

History of the parah adumah

According to the Mishnah (Parah 3:4), a total of eight paros adumos were processed from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu until the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash. The first was the one described in the Torah, in which the key player was Elazar, who was, at the time, the segan, the associate kohein gadol. The Mishnah (4:1) quotes a dispute among tanna’im whether the other paros adumus could be processed only by a kohein gadol, or whether any kohein hedyot was kosher. The Rambam (Hilchos Parah Adumah 1:11) concludes that a kohein hedyot could process the parah adumah, although, it appears that each time it was, indeed, the kohein gadol who did so (Parah 3:8). This is very logical. Since it was the kohein gadol’s decision who would be honored to process the parah adumah, and preparing the parah adumah was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the kohein gadol would want to perform the mitzvah himself.

Cow or heifer?

One question we will address is whether the parah adumah is a cow or a heifer. It is popular to refer to the parah adumah as a red heifer; however, let us examine whether this term is accurate. To do so, we need to know the difference between a cow and a heifer and then to analyze the laws of parah adumah.

My desktop dictionary defines a heifer as: “a young cow, especially one that has not yet given birth.” The Wikipedia definition is: “A young female before she has had a calf of her own and is under three years of age.”

A cow is defined as a mature female. According to my desktop dictionary, it does not need to be fully mature to be a cow, since a heifer is called a “young cow.” In other words, “heifer” should be used to describe the bovine equivalent of a young teenager, and “cow” includes also a physically mature adult.

From some of the mishnayos in Mesechta Parah, we may be able to rally proof regarding which term is more accurate. The Mishnah cites a dispute among tanna’im whether a parah that is or was ever pregnant may be used as a parah adumah. The basis of the dispute concerns the following question: One of the laws of parah adumah is that it may never have performed any type of work. Since a pregnant cow is carrying her offspring, is this considered doing work? Most women will agree that being pregnant is far harder than most other physical work that they have ever performed.

Germane to our current discussion whether a parah adumah should be defined as a cow or as a heifer, cow appears to be the better choice, since a heifer precludes it having calved.

There is actually even stronger proof whether cow or heifer is the better translation of parah adumah.The opening Mishnah of Mesechta Parah cites a dispute regarding the age of a parah adumah. The Mishnah cites four opinions: Rabbi Eliezer rules that a parah adumah must be in its second year, or past its first birthday. The Chachomim rule that it must be past its second birthday, otherwise it is too young, and that, preferably, it should be before its fourth birthday. Rabbi Meir rules that it can be as old as its fifth birthday. According to both the Chachomim and Rabbi Meir, it could be older than four or five, but it is advised not to wait this long, since it could begin to become black, which would invalidate it. Rabbi Yehoshua, the fourth opinion, rules that it should be in its third year, and not older.

We see that most tanna’im accept that an animal more than three years old is kosher as a parah adumah. According to the Wikipedia definition of a heifer, this means that a parah adumah should no longer be called a heifer – it may be too old. However, according to Rabbi Eliezer, and possibly Rabbi Yehoshua, it is not incorrect to call a parah adumah a “red heifer,” although “red cow” would also be accurate. In conclusion, since we follow the ruling that a parah adumah may be more than three years old, the most accurate definition is “red cow” and not “red heifer.”

Processing the parah adumah

The Mishnah describes how the kohein who is in charge of processing the parah adumah spent a week preparing for his task, and how the parah was transported to Har Hazeisim, the Mount of Olives, where it was processed. Although the parah adumah had many of the laws of a korban, technically it was not a korban, and it was prepared outside the Beis Hamikdash grounds.

A huge wood pyre was constructed on Har Hazeisim, and the parah adumah, after being slaughtered and having its blood sprinkled in a very specific way by the kohein, was then burned together with the entire pyre. Many more details of this process are mentioned in the posuk and the Mishnah (third chapter of Parah).

We were permitted and encouraged to add as much wood as possible to the pyre on which the parah adumah was burned. Indeed, the ashes of the parah adumah used to make people tahor were predominantly ashes from the wood with which it was burned. The flesh of the parah adumah was completely burned, but its bones were ground up and mixed into the ashes (Parah 3:11).

There are many details involved in the processing of the parah adumah. Among the many interesting laws is that anyone who wanted to be involved in burning the parah adumah was required to first purify himself and all his clothes, expressly for the purposes of parah adumah. Also, anyone involved in burning the parah adumah could not do any other activity while was being burned.

Making someone tahor

After the parah adumah and its pyre were reduced to ashes, the ash was collected and divided into three parts: one part was kept on the Beis Hamikdash grounds, one part on Har Hazeisim, and the third part was distributed for people to use everywhere around the country (Parah 3:11). The parah adumah ash, which at this stage in its processing is called eifer chatas, was stored in closed containers, until needed for purification purposes.

Milui, kidush, and haza’ah

In order to make the next section easier to absorb, I will divide it into two subtopics. The first is called milui and kidush, whereby the ashes of the parah adumah are used to convert spring water (similar to what you would purchase for drinking) into mei chatas,the special water that makes people tahor. The second subtopic is called haza’ah, which refers to the sprinkling of the mei chatas water onto people or vessels to make them tahor.

Milui — drawing spring water

The first step in preparing the mei chatas is the drawing of the water. Drinkable spring water must be drawn directly from a spring with a tahor vessel. The vessel must be made either of material that is not susceptible to tumah (eino mekabel tumah), such as hollowed-out stone, or, if made from material that is susceptible to tumah (mekabel tumah), such as wood or metal, it must have been made tahor specifically to use for parah adumah. For this reason, someone who immersed a wooden or metal bowl or pot in order to eat or prepare with it terumah or korbanos or non-holy food (chullin) may not use the bowl or pot for the preparation of parah adumah. This rule is one of many takanos chachamim that Chazal instituted, to safeguard the special taharah status of the parah adumah.

Any person or vessel that is intended to come in contact with the eifer chatas, the mei chatas, or with the people and vessels used to process them may not touch anything that can potentially become tamei, unless the person or vessel was previously made tahor specifically for parah adumah purposes. Thus, although the individuals processing, guarding or transporting the parah adumah are permitted to eat and drink, they are severely restricted in what they are permitted to eat or drink. They may eat only food that never came in contact with most liquids (including water, milk, olive oil, wine, grape juice or honey), and they may drink only water that was drawn from a spring especially for the purpose of parah adumah.

The person who draws the water must be completely focused on his job. Performing any other activity not necessary for the production of the mei chatas while drawing the water or transporting it will invalidate it, even doing a task so simple as providing someone with directions or tossing a piece of fruit into a bin.

There is a requirement to be meticulously careful that no other water mix into the mei chatas from the time that it is drawn. For example, if it is left exposed in such a way that dew may enter it, it becomes invalid (Parah 9:1).

Kidush

The drawn spring water must be supervised by a tahor person, until the kidush procedure is performed. The kidush is done by taking some of the eifer chatas ashes and sprinkling them onto the water.

One may draw many buckets of water and pour them into a much larger vat until the vat is full. At that point, one may take a minimal amount of eifer chatas and sprinkle it onto the vat. The amount of ashes sprinkled must be enough that one can see it as it touches the water.

Because of a takanas chachomim, it is required that the person performing kidush do so while he is barefoot (Parah 8:2). This is because of concern that his shoes or sandals might become tamei while he is performing the kidush, and they will, in turn, make him tamei, which will invalidate the entire procedure. Those eager to understand the reason for this takanah more thoroughly are referred to the commentaries to Parah 8:2.

Milui and kidush do not require that they be performed by a kohein – a Yisroel is fine.

May a woman?

Because of a very complicated droshas Chazal, there is a dispute among tanna’im whether a woman or a child may perform milui or kidush. According to Rabbi Yehudah, a (male) child may perform them, but not a woman, whereas the majority opinion is that a woman may perform these activities, but not a child (Parah 5:4; Sotah 43a).

Haza’ah

The Torah teaches that to become tahor after contracting tumas meis, one must undergo the following procedure: On the third day after one became tamei, or later, one is sprinkled with the mei chatas. The sprinkling is repeated four or more days later. These two sprinklings are referred to transpiring on the “third” and “seventh” days. In reality, “third” and “seventh” are minimums. The mei chatas cannot be sprinkled earlier than the third day after the person or utensil contracted tumah. Whenever that sprinkling actually occurs, at least four days must past before the second sprinkling can take place. Sometime after the second sprinkling is performed, the person must immerse himself in a spring or a mikveh and then await the nightfall after his immersion to become completely tahor.

The same law applies to most vessels that become tamei from contact with a corpse. They require sprinkling on the third or later day after contracting tumah, a second sprinkling four or more days later, immersion in a spring or mikveh, and then waiting until nightfall. After these four steps have been taken, the vessel becomes completely tahor.

Eizov

This sprinkling is done with a special plant called an eizov, which is usually translated as “hyssop.” However, the word “hyssop” is simply the word eizov transliterated into Greek, which was then transliterated into Latin and then English, and someone decided that it might refer to an herb that they chose at random. According to different approaches to explaining a passage of Gemara (Shabbos 109b), eizov might mean oregano, sage or marjoram, all of which are fragrant shrubs. From the Mishnah (Parah 11:7), it is evident that the eizov was considered edible, presumably either as a salad green or in some form of dip. It is absolutely essential that one use the correct variety meant by the Torah as eizov (see Parah 11:7). We will not know for certain which species is intended until Eliyohu returns to identify it for us.

Intent

Although the people that are becoming tahor do not have to intend that they are becoming tahor, the person performing the haza’ah must have in mind that the procedure he is performing is for the purpose of making them tahor. If he did not have this in mind, they remain tamei.

Direct impact

The water that is being sprinkled must land on the tamei person or utensil directly – if it ricocheted off another item and then landed onto the tamei person or utensil, they remain tamei.

Minimum contact – substantive impact

The people or implements becoming tahor need be touched by only one drop of the mei chatas waters. Indeed, there is no halachic advantage to receiving a bigger sprinkling or more than one sprinkling on a day. As I mentioned above, to become tahor the person or implement must have mei chatas sprinkled on them twice – once on the third day (or later) from which they became tamei meis, and a second time, at least four days later (this is referred to as the “seventh day” – i. e., at least four days after the first sprinkling). The people or implements then require immersion in a mikveh or spring and become completely tahor on the next nightfall. Until that time, the people may not enter the Beis Hamikdash grounds, nor may they consume terumah or kodoshim. However, they are permitted to touch regular food without contaminating it, and they may also handle maaser sheini.

May a woman II

The tanna’im dispute whether a woman or a child can perform the haza’ah. Because of the hermeneutic rules, this dispute is the exact opposite of what I mentioned above, regarding the milui and kidush. According to Rabbi Yehudah, a woman may perform the haza’ah, but not a child, whereas according to the majority opinion, which is the way we rule, a (male) child can perform this ritual, but not a woman (Parah 12:10; Yoma 43a).

Since we mentioned above that the person performing the haza’ah must know that he is making someone tahor, a very young child cannot perform haza’ah, but only a child old enough to understand that his act is making someone tahor (Parah 12:10, see commentaries).

Conclusion

Because of space considerations, several important aspects of the parah adumah have been omitted in this article. Included in the topics that have been omitted is the full explanation of the famous statement that parah adumah is metaheir es hatemei’im umetamei es hatehorim: although it makes tamei things tahor, it also sometimes makes tahor things tamei. We also did not discuss what defines the parah adumah as being completely red, nor did we discuss the dispute with the tzedukim about the proper processing of the parah adumah, which had major halachic ramifications. We will have to return to the topic to discuss these laws in future articles.

Afterword

One of Rav Moshe Feinstein’s talmidim related to me the following story that he himself observed. A completely red, female calf had been born. Since this is indeed a rare occurrence, much conversation developed concerning whether this was positive indication that Moshiach would be arriving soon and this calf would provide the parah adumah necessary to make people and vessels tahor.

Someone approached Rav Moshe to see his reaction to hearing this welcome news, and was surprised that Rav Moshe did not react at all. When asked further whether he felt that this was any indication of Moshiach’s imminent arrival, Rav Moshe responded: “I daven every day for Moshiach to come NOW. The parah adumah is not kosher until it is past its second birthday. Do you mean to tell me that I must wait two more years for Moshiach?”

Shul Building, Part II

Question #1: One shul

“May we merge two existent shullen, when each has its own minhagim?”

Question #2: Two shuls

“Is it permitted to leave a shul to start our own?’

Question #3: More seats?

“Can there ever be a problem with adding more seats to a shul?”

Introduction:

Our batei kenesiyos and batei midrashos, the buildings that we designate for prayer and for study, are referred to as our mikdash me’at, our holy buildings reminiscent of the the sanctity of the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash.

As I mentioned in last week’s article, there is a halachic requirement to build a shul. To quote the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 11:1-2), Any place that has ten Jews must have available a building that they can enter to pray at every time of prayer.

Changing neighborhoods

An interesting teshuvah from Rav Moshe relates to a shul building that had been originally planned with a lower level to use as a social hall, with the shul intended to be on the upper floor. They began to use the social hall for davening until they built the shul on top, but the neighborhood began to change. Before they even finished the social hall, it became clear that they would have no need to complete the structure of the building. They never finished the building, and instead, directed the efforts and finances toward purchasing a new shul in a neighborhood to which people were moving. The old shul, or, more accurately, the “social hall” part of the old shul building, is at the stage where there is barely a minyan left, and the dwindling numbers imply that it is not going to be very long until there is no functioning minyan. The question is that they would like to sell the old building and use the money to complete the purchase of the new building. Furthermore, the mikveh in the town is now in a neighborhood to which women are hesitant to travel, so they want to use the funds from the old shul building to defray the construction costs of a necessary new mikveh.

Because of the specific circumstances involved, including that it is unlikely that people from the outside will drop in to daven in this minyan anymore, Rav Moshe rules that they are permitted to sell the building.

A similar responsum from Rav Moshe was when they needed to create a shul in a neighborhood where there was a good chance that the Jewish community there would not last long. Rather than declare their building a shul, they called it a library and used it as their shul. Rav Moshe suggests that they might have been required to do so, since they knew from the outset that the days of the Jewish community were numbered (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 2:44).

More seats?

At this point, let us discuss the third of our opening questions:

“Can there ever be a problem with adding more seats to a shul?”

There is an early responsum on the topic (Shu”t Harivosh #253), and the ruling might seem to us counterintuitive. A wealthy individual purchased several seats in the shul many years before. Probably, when the shul was built, the community had sold or perhaps even auctioned seats, at prices depending on their location (think of the relative ticket prices on theater seats, lehavdil). The seats are considered private property and are even at times rented out to others.

There is now a shortage of seats in the shul and the community would like to add new seats in empty areas of the shul. The wealthy fellow claims that this will make it more difficult for him to get to his seat, and that his own seat will be more crowded as a result. Can the community add seats, notwithstanding his claim?

The Rivosh rules that the community cannot add new seats, because the wealthy fellow already owns the right to get to his seat in a comfortable way. However, the Rivosh rules that the community may do the following to try to increase the availability of seats:

1. They may set a limit on the rental price of the existing seats.

2. They may pass a regulation that unused seats must be rented out.

Building two shuls

There is an old Jewish joke about the Jew stranded on a desert island who built two shuls, one to daven in, and the other never to walk into. Is there any halachic basis to this habit we have of opening several competing shullen in the same neighborhood?

Indeed, there are old responsa regarding this question. The Radbaz, one of the greatest halachic authorities of the fifteenth century, was asked such a shaylah (Shu”t Haradbaz #910).

A man named Yehudah Abualfas wanted to open a second shul in his town. The background appears to be as follows: The community, which may have been located somewhere in Egypt, was composed predominantly of families who originated from Tunisia, but there were individuals who had settled there from other places. The shul followed the minhag of Tunis.

Yehudah Abualfas, who was born and raised in this community with Tunisian customs, and everyone else living in the town, were members of the general community. They donated to the community’s tzedakah fund, participated in its fees and taxes, and davened in the community shul which followed minhagei Tunis.

Abualfas’s family originated from a place where they followed the customs of the Spanish communities, not those of Tunisia. (Ashkenazim tend to group Sefardim and Edot Hamizrah together as one group. Technically, Sefardim are those whose antecedents once lived in Spain, whereas there were Jewish communities from Morocco to Iran and even farther east whose ancestors never lived in Spain and should be called Edot Hamizrah.) Abualfas and his friends had begun to develop their own community, consisting of members who identified as Sefardim and not as Tunisians, and they wanted to create their own community following minhag Sefard.

Shul versus community

The Radbaz divides the question into two topics: May the Sefardim establish their own shul, and may they establish their own community?

Regarding the establishing of their own community, which would mean that they would no longer participate in the tzedakah fund and other taxes and fees of the general community, the Radbaz rules that, once they have individually been paying as members of the main community, they cannot separate from that community and create their own. As individuals, they are bound to continue contributing to the main community.

However, regarding whether they may create their own shul, the Radbaz rules that they may, for the following reason: since they do not want to be forced to daven with the rest of the community, their desire to have their own shul will disturb their kavanah while davening. The Radbaz discusses at length the issue of davening with kavanah. He notes that one is not permitted to daven when one is angry, and that the Gemara states that, if the amora Rav Chanina ever got angry, he did not daven that day. Furthermore, we see that any distraction is a reason why one should not daven, even that of an enticing fragrance. Therefore, one may not daven when in the presence of people that one does not like. The Radbaz further suggests that just as there is a halacha that one will study Torah properly only when he is interested in the topic, a person will be able to concentrate in his davening only when he is praying where he is happy. For these reasons, the Radbaz rules that people who are not satisfied praying with the rest of the community are permitted to organize their own shul. However, he rules that it is within the community’s prerogative to ban the forming of other shullen, when this will harm community interests.

Berov am hadras melech

The Radbaz then discusses the halachic preference of berov am hadras melech, a large group of people (attending a mitzvah) honors the King (Rosh Hashanah 32b). This means that it is preferable that a large group of people daven in one shul, rather than split among several smaller shullen. The Radbaz concludes that, indeed, it is preferable for everyone to daven in the same shul but, when people will be unhappy, that factor permits them to open their own shul.

The Radbaz closes this discussion with the following:

“Do not interpret my words to think that I believe that dividing into different shullen is good. G-d forbid… However, we are required to try as hard as possible that everyone pray with a full heart to his Father in Heaven. If it is impossible to pray with a full heart when davening in a shul that one does not enjoy, and the people will constantly be arguing, having different shullen is the lesser of the two evils.”

An earlier authority, the Rivosh (Shu”t Harivosh #253) mentions the same ruling — individuals who want to establish their own breakaway minyan cannot be stopped, and that it is improper to prevent this. However, if the members of the existing shul claim that their shul requires the income or membership to keep going, one should examine whether the claim is truthful. If, indeed, it is, one should work out a plan that accommodates the needs of both communities. (See also Rema, Choshen Mishpat 162:7.)

Two shuls

At this point, we can now address the second of our opening questions: “Is it permitted to leave a shul to start our own?”

The short answer is that there are circumstances when this is permitted, although, in an ideal world, it is not preferred.

One shul

At this point, let us examine the first of our opening questions: “May we merge two existent shullen, when each has its own minhagim?”

The answer is that, because of the rule of berov am hadras melech, it is preferable to merge shuls into a larger entity, but, as I explained above, this will depend on circumstances (see also Shu”t Binyan Tziyon 1:122). If the members understand that it is a greater honor to Hashem to have a large shul with many people davening together, that is preferred.

Conclusion

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the relatively minor aspects of davening should make us more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three high points — the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers.

The power of tefillah is very great. Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation. Remember that we are actually speaking to Hashem, and that we are trying to build a relationship with Him. Through tefillah, one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh decrees. We are required to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must reinforce the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos, and He listens to them!

Shul Building

Question #1: One shul

“May we merge together two existent shullen, when each has its own minhagim?”

Question #2: Two shuls

“Is it permitted to leave a shul to start our own?’

Question #3: Old shul

“In our town, almost everyone has moved away from the ‘old neighborhood,’ which has now, unfortunately, become a slum. The sprinkling of Jewish people still there can no longer maintain the shul. Are the people who used to live there still obligated to maintain the old shul building?”

Question #4: New shul

“We have been comfortably davening in different people’s houses, three times a day, seven days a week. Now, some individuals are clamoring that they want us to build a shul, which is a huge expense. Isn’t this chutzpah on their part, when we are all struggling to pay our mortgages?”

Introduction:

Our batei kenesiyos and batei midrashos, the buildings that we designate for prayer and for study, are referred to as our mikdash me’at, our holy buildings reminiscent of the the sanctity of the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash.

There is a halachic requirement to build a shul. To quote the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 11:1-2), Any place that has ten Jews must have available a building that they can enter to pray at every time of prayer. This building is called a beis hakenesses(synagogue). The members of the community can force one another to build a synagogue, to purchase a sefer Torah and books of the prophets and of the kesuvim. When you build a synagogue, you must build it in the highest part of the town… and you must elevate it, until it is taller than any of the courtyards in town.

We see from the words of the Rambam that it is not sufficient to have an area available in which one can daven when necessary – it is required to have a building designated specifically for this purpose, even if the shul will be empty the rest of the day (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 2:44). Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that a community is required to have a building designated to be their mikdash me’at.

Since it is a community responsibility to have a shul building, the minority of the membership of a community may force the majority to raise the money to build a shul (Rema, Choshen Mishpat 163:1). In earlier generations, communities had the authority to levy taxes on their members. Since building a shul is a community responsibility, they could require people to provide the funds necessary for this project.

Must we build a shul?

At this point, let us address one of our opening questions: “We have been comfortably davening in different people’s houses, three times a day, seven days a week. Now, some individuals are clamoring that they want us to build a shul, which is a huge expense. Isn’t this chutzpah on their part, when we are all struggling to pay our mortgages?”

The answer is that, not only is it not chutzpah on the part of those individuals, the halachic right is on their side. The community is required to have a shul, and it is unsatisfactory that the minyan takes place in a home that is not meant to be a beis tefillah. Therefore, individuals can certainly force the rest to build a shul.

I cannot resist telling over the following story from my experience as a shul rav. At one time, I was invited for an interview to a new shul that was located in an affluent area. I made a trip to meet the shul search committee, which was very interested in engaging me as their rav. They showed me the converted house that they were using as the shul, and mentioned that when they had renovated the building, they did so in a way that there would be an apartment in the building for the rav to use as his residence, since they did not have much money for a respectable salary. In their minds, since the rav could now save himself mortgage or rent money, that was a hefty part of what they intended for his salary.

I noted to them that in the position I had at the time, I could devote myself fully to rabbinic duties, something that would be quite impossible in the circumstances that they proposed. Their response was that although they understood my predicament, this was all they could afford, since most of their members were paying very huge mortgages for the zechus of living in this neighborhood. I made a mental note that none of them seemed to feel that the apartment part of the shul building that they were proposing was certainly nothing that any of them would consider suitable residential accommodations, nor would they consider the shul building representative of the high-class lifestyle that they had chosen for themselves.

How do we assess?

In earlier generations, the Jewish community had the ability to levy taxes and other fees on its membership. Virtually all Jewish communities had fairly strong authority over its membership because the community levied taxes and also was responsible for collectively paying taxes to the local monarch.

When assessing individuals for the construction of a local shul, do we charge according to people’s financial means, or does everyone share equally in the costs of the building?

The Rema rules that when raising the money for a shul, we take into consideration both the resources of the individuals and also who will be using the facility. Therefore, when assessing people for the building of a shul, the costs are allocated both according to the financial means and according to individuals. Thus, the wealthier members of a community will be paying a somewhat higher percentage of the costs.

Rent a shul

If the community does not have the resources to build or purchase a shul, they can force one another to put up enough money to rent a place (Mishnah Berurah 150:2)

Where not to rent

In a responsum in Igros Moshe (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:25), Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked the following: There is no orthodox shul in town, and they have been davening in houses. Now, they want to rent space from a local conservative congregation. May they do so?

Rav Moshe prohibits this for two reasons:

1. This arrangement provides some credibility to the conservative congregation.

2. When people see the orthodox people entering or exiting the building of the conservative temple, they may think that these people are intending to pray in the conservative facility, which is prohibited. This involves the prohibition of maris ayin, doing something that may raise suspicion that one violated halacha.

Changing neighborhoods

Let us now address a different one of our opening questions: “In our town, almost everyone has moved away from the ‘old neighborhood,’ which has now, unfortunately, become a slum. The sprinkling of Jewish people still there can no longer maintain the shul. Are the people who used to live there still obligated to maintain the old shul building?”

This question was asked of Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:28).

In the case that he was asked, the shul had already opened a new facility in a nicer area and, until this point, the expenses of the old shul were being covered from the budget of the new shul. However, the members no longer saw any gain from doing so, since it was only a question of time until the old shul would no longer be at all functional. They would like to close down the old shul and sell the building. Are they permitted to?

The general rule is that a shul is considered communal public property and, as long as it functions as a shul, no one has the right to sell or modify its use. This is because the “owners” of the shul include anyone who might visit the area and want to find a minyan in which to daven. This is true, providing that there are still minyanim that meet in the shul on a regular basis — they cannot sell the building or close it down (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim III #29).

In the case at hand, Rav Moshe rules that those who have moved out of the neighborhood of the old shul have no responsibility to pay for the upkeep or repairs of the shul building that they are not using. The fact that the community has been treating the two shul buildings as one institution does not change this. Rav Moshe then mentions that, since the old shul is in a bad neighborhood, they may have a responsibility to remove the sifrei Torah from the shul, and perhaps even the siddurim, chumashim and other seforim, in order to protect them. He concludes that, since those who still daven in the old shul have no means of their own to keep the shul going, it is permitted to shutter the shul building and sell it. He also mentions that, if the bank will foreclose on the mortgage and re-possess the building, this does not require them to continue paying the mortgage. Nor does the bank’s decision as to what it will do with the shul property after the foreclosure require them to continue paying the mortgage.

Regarding those who still live in the old neighborhood, Rav Moshe rules that they should conduct the minyanim in a house where the sifrei Torah and the other seforim will be secure (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim III #28).

An interesting teshuvah from Rav Moshe relates to a shul building that had been originally planned to have a lower level to use as a social hall, with the shul intended to be on the upper floor. They began to use the social hall for davening until they built the shul on top, but the neighborhood began to change, and it became clear that they would have no need to complete the structure of the building. They never finished the building, and instead, directed the efforts and finances toward purchasing a new shul in a neighborhood to which people were moving. The old shul, or, more accurately, the “social hall” part of the old shul building, is at the stage where there is barely a minyan left, and the dwindling numbers imply that it is not going to be very long until there is no functioning minyan. The question is that they would like to sell the old building and use the money to complete the purchase of the new building. Furthermore, the mikveh in the town is now in a neighborhood to which women are hesitant to travel, so they want to use the funds from the old shul building to defray the construction costs of a necessary new mikveh.

Because of the specific circumstances involved, including that it is unlikely that people from the outside will drop in to daven in this minyan anymore, Rav Moshe rules that they are permitted to sell the building. A similar responsum from Rav Moshe was when they needed to create a shul in a neighborhood where there was a good chance that the Jewish community there would not last long. Rather than declare their building a shul, they called it a library and used it as their shul. Rav Moshe suggests that this was a good suggestion, since they knew from the outset that the days of the Jewish community were numbered (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim, 2:44).

We will continue this article next week…

Using a Thermos on Shabbos

Since most of the laws of Shabbos are derived from the construction of the Mishkan, it is an appropriate week to discuss:

Question #1: Using a Thermos

“May I pour hot water from an urn or a kettle that is on the blech into a thermos on Shabbos?”

Question #2: Wrapping a Thermos

“May I wrap a thermos bottle, containing hot water, with towels on Shabbos to keep the water hot?”

Introduction:

Explaining the background behind both of these questions involves an in-depth analysis of the rabbinic injunctions instituted by our Sages to safeguard the Shabbos. The laws of Shabbos include many Torah prohibitions, such as not to cook or stir a fire, and also many rabbinic prohibitions to guarantee that people not violate Torah laws. We will begin our explanation of this topic with an extensive glossary, but bear in mind that this is a brief overview of these concepts and not to be used for practical halacha.

Shehiyah – leaving food on the fire

Chazal prohibited shehiyah, which is leaving food on a fire or in an oven when Shabbos begins, because of concern that someone might mistakenly stir the coals. However, they permitted leaving food this way when one fulfills any one of the following three requirements:

1. Covering the fire

One may leave food cooking or warming as Shabbos begins, if he covers the fire in a way that lessens its heat and also reminds one not to stir the fire on Shabbos (see Shabbos 36b with Rashi and Ran). The most common method used today to accomplish this is to place a blech on top of the stove. It is preferable that the blech also cover the dials, to avoid inadvertently adjusting the flame (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:93).

2. Adding raw meat

A second method to permit cooking or warming food when Shabbos begins is to place raw meat into the pot immediately before Shabbos (Shabbos 18b). By doing so, one knows that the food will certainly not be ready to eat for the Friday night meal, and it will be ready for the Shabbos day meal, so there is no need to be concerned about turning up the fire (Rashi ad locum).

Several late poskim are reluctant to rely on this heter today, for reasons beyond the scope of this article (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 37:22; Teshuvos Ivra in Kisvei Hagaon Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, Volume 2, page 19).

3. Cooked before Shabbos

A third approach is to have the food cooked before Shabbos begins. According to Ashkenazic practice, one may leave the food even on an open fire, as long as it is considered edible when Shabbos begins. Sefardim follow a more stringent approach, allowing this heter only if the food is fully cooked and only for heating water and similar foods that do not improve by remaining longer on the fire. To prepare chamin shel Shabbat, what Ashkenazim call cholent, a Sefardi must rely on one of the other two heterim mentioned above, whereas an Ashkenazi may leave his food even on an open flame, if it is edible when Shabbos begins.

Chazarah – warming food on Shabbos

A second prohibition that Chazal instituted is called chazarah, which includes placing food, even if fully cooked, on a heat source on Shabbos to warm it up. The details of this prohibition are complicated, but for our purposes we will mention that it is permitted to return a pot or food to the fire on Shabbos, even if the food is fully cooked, only in two general ways:

A. The food is still hot, one removed it from the blech intending to return it to remain hot or warm, provided he kept his hand on the handle of  the pot the entire time that it was off the fire. Many Sefardim are lenient, maintaining that one does not need to observe the last two requirements, provided the pot of food was not placed on the ground; Ashkenazim can be lenient about returning the food to the fire, if someone mistakenly forgot these two requirements. Concerning how hot the food must be, Sefardim are stricter than Ashkenazim, contending that the food must be too hot to hold directly in one’s hand in order to permit returning. Ashkenazim rule that one may return the food as long as it is still warm enough to eat.

B. Under certain circumstances, Chazal permitted warming dry food on Shabbos in a way that is different from the way one normally cooks food. For example: One may place a fully-baked kugel on top of a pot that is on the fire.

Hatmanah – insulating

A third prohibition that Chazal instituted, one very relevant to our topic, is called hatmanah, wrapping or insulating food to keep it hot. This includes two different sets of rules – one for someone who wraps the food before Shabbos and one for someone who wants to wrap his food on Shabbos.

Before Shabbos

Chazal prohibited hatmanah before Shabbos in a way that increases the heat, such as with hot ash, fertilizer, or the remaining crushed-out pulp of olives or sesame seeds. These materials are called davar hamosif hevel, items that increase heat. This is prohibited because of a concern that someone might mistakenly stir coals on Shabbos (Shabbos 34b). However, it is permitted to insulate foods before Shabbos with materials that do not increase heat, called davar she’eino mosif hevel, such as clothing, blankets, towels, or sawdust. (In the case of sawdust, one may also have to deal with the laws of muktzah, but that is not today’s subject.)

Partial hatmanah before Shabbos

The Rishonim dispute what constitutes hatmanah. Does leaving food on a fire to continue warming when Shabbos arrives constitute hatmanah? Although this does not fulfill our usual definition of insulating, it warms the food on Shabbos by maintaining physical contact with a source of heat. According to many Rishonim, placing food so that it touches the fire is included in the prohibition of hatmanah (Ba’al Hamaor and Ran, beginning of Shabbos, Chapter 3). In their opinion, if one heats food on a wood fire and intends to leave the food that way into Shabbos, one must place the food atop a tripod or other device that raises it above the burning wood and coals. Placing the pot of food on the tripod avoids the prohibition of hatmanah (but may still involve the prohibition of shehiyah), since the food is no longer touching any heat source. Failing to distance the food from direct contact to the source of heat violates the prohibition of hatmanah, and the food may not be eaten on Shabbos.

According to other Rishonim, hatmanah is prohibited only when the pot of food is covered completely or mostly (see Tosafos, Shabbos 36b s.v. Lo; Sefer Hayashar, Cheilek Hachiddushim Chapter 235). The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 253:1) follows the first opinion that one may not have food lying directly on a flame or hot coals when Shabbos begins. Thus, Sefardim, who follow the Shulchan Aruch’s decisions, may not leave food for Shabbos touching the heat directly, even if it is otherwise exposed to the air. The Rema permits partial hatmanah on Shabbos, allowing placing a pot into warm coals before Shabbos, as long as the lid is not covered by the coals.

Thus, people on a camping trip over Shabbos who choose to keep their Friday night dinner warm by leaving it on their campfire need to know if they are Ashkenazim or Sefardim. If they are Ashkenazim, they may leave their food on the fire when Shabbos starts, as long as it is already cooked to the extent that it is edible. If they are Sefardim, they must have the food elevated above the fire when Shabbos begins, and, in addition, they can do this only with food that is fully cooked and does not improve when it stews longer.

Lid is not covered

If one is an Ashkenazi, how much of the pot may be covered without violating the laws of hatmanah? The Shulchan Aruch Harav (Kuntrus Acharon 257:3) contends that as long as the pot lid remains uncovered, one may cover all the sides of the pot. He permits placing a bottle into a pot of hot water before Shabbos, provided that the cover of the bottle is above the water level.

The Pri Megadim (Mishbetzos Zahav, Orach Chayim 259:3) discusses whether it is sufficient that the top of the pot be exposed, or whether a larger area of the pot must be exposed. Based on a ruling of the Taz (Orach Chayim 258:1), the Pri Megadim contends that one must leave most of the pot exposed to avoid violating hatmanah. (We should note that the Taz in Orach Chayim 253:14 appears to hold like the Shulchan Aruch Harav.)

This dispute would affect to what extent one may drape towels over an urn either before or on Shabbos. According to the Pri Megadim, one may do this only if the sides of the urn are predominantly exposed. According to the Shulchan Aruch Harav, it is sufficient if the sides are partially exposed.

Shabbos sleeve

I once saw a woman prepare her electric hot water urn by draping a cloth sleeve made especially for the urn and embroidered with the words “Lichvod Shabbos.” I asked her why she did that and she said, “It keeps it hotter.” When I told her she can’t use it because of hatmanah, she was incredulous, and responded, “but it says ‘lichvod Shabbos!’” I have no idea who produced this sleeve, but there was no hechsher embossed on it. Unfortunately, the label on the cloth does not permit its use.

By the way, there is a simple solution for this problem. If some space is left between the side of the urn and the towels or sleeve, this is not considered hatmanah and is permitted (Chayei Odom, Hilchos Shabbos 2:5). One may place a board or other item on top of the urn that is wider that the urn and drape the towel over the item. In this instance, one may leave the towel there all of Shabbos, and one may even place the towel there on Shabbos itself. Since the towel is not resting flush against the urn, this is not included in the prohibition of hatmanah.

On Shabbos

On Shabbos itself, Chazal prohibited covering the food, even with something that does not increase heat (Shabbos 34a). Therefore, one may not take a cholent pot or kettle and wrap it in towels on Shabbos to keep it hot. The reason for this prohibition is concern that someone insulating his food will discover that it is colder than he wants and will mistakenly heat it (Shabbos 34a).

Kli rishon and sheini

The next part of our glossary involves explaining the terms kli rishon, kli sheini and yad soledes bo.

A kli rishon is a pot, pan or other vessel containing food that was heated on top of a stove, inside an oven or any other way directly from a source of heat. A kli sheini is the platter or bowl into which food was poured from a kli rishon.

Here is a halachic example of the distinction between kli rishon and kli sheini. The Mishnah (Shabbos 42a) teaches that if a pan or pot of food was removed from the fire on Shabbos, one may not add spices into that pot, because this constitutes bishul. However, one may add spices to a platter which contains the food after it has been poured out of the original pot or pan. The second case is a kli sheini, meaning that the platter itself was never on the fire.

Why is there a halachic difference between a kli rishon and a kli sheini? Tosafos (Shabbos 40b s.v. Ushma) explains that when the vessel itself is on the fire or inside the oven, the heat of the food is sustained by the hot walls of the vessel, and that is why bishul occurs. However, when the container itself was never directly warmed, the walls of the vessel diminish the heat of the food placed therein. As a result, the food will not cook from the heat of the kli sheini walls. In other words, cooking requires not only sufficient heat, but also that the walls of the pot or vessel maintain that heat. Therefore, cooking occurs in a kli rishon even after it was removed from the fire, but, under most circumstances, not in a kli sheini.

Yad soledes bo

Whenever halacha discusses that something is hot, it means that it is at least yad soledes bo, a term meaning that it is hot enough that a person pulls his hand back instinctively when he touches it. There is much dispute among the halachic authorities as to how we measure this in degrees, which is a subtopic that we will leave for a different time.

Using a thermos

Now that we have completed our very extensive introduction, we can address the questions that began this article:

“May I pour hot water from an urn or a kettle that is on the blech into a thermos on Shabbos?”

“May I wrap a thermos bottle, containing hot water, with towels on Shabbos to keep the water hot?”

The Gemara (Shabbos 51a) quotes a Tosefta (see Shabbos 4:12) that provides the prologue to our question: “Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says that they prohibited (insulating on Shabbos) only if the food is in the pot in which it was originally heated up, but if it was moved to a different pot, one may insulate it on Shabbos.” The Gemara explains that the prohibition to insulate food on Shabbos is out of concern that someone might increase the heat by stirring coals (see Shabbos 34a). Rashi explains that the reason Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel permitted wrapping up the pot of food in this case is because the person is actively trying to cool off the water by pouring it into a cooler vessel. However a thermos bottle that is being used to keep things hot may be different.

On the other hand, the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 4:5) cites this law as follows: “If you moved the cooked food or the hot water from one vessel to another, one is permitted to insulate the second vessel on Shabbos, provided one uses material that does not increase heat… because they forbade insulating food on Shabbos only in a kli rishon, in which the food was originally cooked, but once it was moved from that vessel, it is permitted.” Clearly, the Rambam understands that there was no decree prohibiting hatmanah in a kli sheini on Shabbos with devorim she’einam mosifim hevel. Following this logic, it would appear that one may pour hot water into a thermos bottle on Shabbos, even though one’s intent is to keep the water hot,since a thermos is only a kli sheini. Thus, whether one may pour hot water into a thermos on Shabbos may depend on this dispute between Rashi and the Rambam.

In general, halachic authorities rule according to the Rambam when he disputes with Rashi, both lechumrah and lekulah. The Birkei Yosef (Choshen Mishpat 25:31) explains the reason is because Rashi wrote his comments to explain the text of the Gemara, and it is possible that he might have reconsidered had he issued a final ruling.  Indeed, in this instance, several major authorities appear to rule according to the Rambam (Ran; Tur; Taz, Orach Chayim 257:5; see also Magen Avraham 252:13).

Notwithstanding the opinions of these authorities, Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that it is preferable to be machmir like Rashi (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:95). Rav Moshe concludes, however, that, even according to Rashi, it is permitted to pour water into a thermos bottle on Shabbos, because of a different reason. The closing of a thermos bottle is not an act of hatmanah, but an act of closing the bottle. However, according to Rashi, it is certainly forbidden to wrap the thermos bottle with towels to keep it hot. According to Rambam, this should be permitted, because there is no hatmanah in a kli sheini.

In conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order that it be a day of rest. He points out that the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, which implies purpose and accomplishment. Shabbos is a day on which we refrain from altering the world for our own purposes, and the goal of Shabbos is to allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation, by refraining from our own creative acts (Shemos 20:11).

The Gemara teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. In this context, we can explain the vast halachic literature devoted to understanding these prohibitions, created by Chazal to protect the Jewish people from major sins. Seeing how much attention the poskim apply to understanding the laws of Shabbos thoroughly should encourage us to make sure we know these laws well, in all their details.

Tidbits of Interest

Some Aspects of the Halachos of Ribbis

Question #1: Small Thanks

“May I give a small present of thanks to someone who helped me out with a loan?”

Question #2: Doing a chesed

“Can I violate ribbis by doing a chesed?”

Question #3: Lending my Credit Card

“How can you violate ribbis by letting someone use your credit card?”

There are a total of six different prohibitions that can be violated when creating and paying a loan in which there is interest. Someone who loans money for interest is in violation of the Torah’s prohibition, even before any interest is, indeed, charged or collected (see Bava Metzia 62a; Shu”t Mahar”a Sasson #162).

According to the Mishnah, not only do the borrower and the lender violate the prohibition against ribbis, but the witnesses to the loan, the co-signer on the loan and the scribe who writes up the loan document are also in violation of the prohibition (Bava Metzia 75b). Thus, anyone causing the loan to be finalized is in violation of this mitzvah. This would include someone who notarizes a loan document that includes a ribbis provision, and might even include a lawyer who draws up a document that includes provisions for ribbis (Bris Yehudah 1:6).

The halachos of ribbis are quite complex, and a review of some of the halachos is always in order. From my experience, even seasoned Torah scholars make mistakes about these halachos and may even have business activities that violate the prohibition of ribbis. What makes these matters even more regrettable is that virtually every one of these situations can be alleviated easily by usage of a heter iska, which will be explained later in this article.

Chazal were so concerned that someone would violate the prohibition of ribbis that they wanted the lender to gain no perceived advantages from the loan, even when the gains are completely of a non-monetary nature. Thus, the lender may not ask the borrower to do him a favor that he would not have asked had he not loaned him money (Tosafos, Bava Metzia 64b s.v. Avol). Similarly, the borrower may not invite the lender to his simcha, if he would not have invited him otherwise.  It is even prohibited for the borrower to thank the lender for the loan (Graz, Hilchos Ribbis #9).

Chazal also prohibited ribbis that occurs before or after the loan exists. For example, it is prohibited for the borrower to bring a small gift to the lender, as a token of thanks for the loan (Mishnah Bava Metzia 75b). This is prohibited, even after the loan has been paid off, and even many years later.

Ribbis Without a Loan

The halacha prohibits charging for the use of one’s money, even when a loan did not actually take place. Thus, a merchant may not add interest charges to a bill (sent to a Jew), because it is past due. He is permitted to bill for the actual expenses accrued due to his having had to send an additional bill, as well as any other collection costs he incurs. However, the merchant may not add service charges because he was forced to borrow money off his credit line to cover the shortfall.

The prohibition against charging for delay of payment also applies to acquisitions. Thus, a store may not charge one price for cash and a different price for credit or delayed payment.

The borrower may pay a co-signer to guarantee a gemach loan. In a situation where the borrower defaults and the co-signer has to pay off the loan, the co-signer may collect what he paid from the borrower (Taz to Yoreh Deah 170:3).

Neighborly Loans

When neighbors borrow small items such as flour, sugar, or eggs, a loan has taken place. They may not intentionally return more than was borrowed, which would be considered ribbis. However, if they are uncertain exactly how much flour or sugar they borrowed, they are permitted to return enough to be certain that they have definitely returned as much as they borrowed (see Bava Metzia 75a). One may return an item that is similar, but not identical, to what was borrowed, if the buyer and seller are not concerned about the difference. Thus, one who borrowed a loaf of bread of one brand need not be concerned whether the loaf of bread that he returns is the same brand or the identical size (Rema, Yoreh Deah 162:1). Similarly, one need not be concerned that the price may have fluctuated in the interim (Shaar HaTziyun 450:4). .

Ribbis Without any Benefit to the Lender

The Torah prohibits ribbis if the borrower pays more than he borrowed, even when no benefit is gained by the lender.

An actual case will show us how people can be guilty of this violation without realizing it. Reuvain is involved in many chesed projects, including raising money for tzedakah. Yankel had an excellent business opportunity and asked Reuvain to help him finance his new endeavor, of course in a permitted fashion. Reuvain decided that he would rather utilize this opportunity for a different mitzvah. He tells Yankel, “Instead of becoming a partner in your business, I will lend you the money interest free, but I’d like to make a condition that some of the maaser from the profits goes to support a yeshiva.”

Reuvain assumes that by making the arrangements this way, he fulfills the mitzvah of lending someone money, which, indeed, is a big mitzvah of chesed, and, in addition, he will be causing someone else to give tzedakah, which is also a tremendous mitzvah. Unfortunately for both Reuvain and Yaakov, since giving the tzedakah was a condition of the loan, this arrangement incurs a Biblical prohibition of ribbis. Although the lender, Reuvain, does not gain from the loan, since a condition of the loan was that Yankel pay more money than he borrowed, this is considered a Torah violation of ribbis (Rema, Yoreh Deah 160:14). (In this instance, there would be no violation of ribbis if he asked Yankel as a favor to donate to the tzedakah cause. Alternatively, they could arrange some form of heter iska, as will be explained later.)

Borrowing Credit or Credit Cards

Here is another instance that occurs frequently, in which people wish to do a tremendous chesed but in reality they are involved in a serious infraction of ribbis. Mrs. Friedman and Mrs. Goldstein meet at a closeout sale where top quality mattresses are available at an unbelievable price. Members of Mrs. Friedman’s family need new mattresses, and she realizes that by purchasing them at the closeout prices she will be saving hundreds of dollars.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Friedman does not have the money to purchase the mattresses, nor does she have any credit cards at her disposal. As she is bemoaning the fact that she will have to forgo this opportunity to save so much money, Mrs. Goldstein, always eager to do a chesed, offers Mrs. Friedman to charge the mattresses on her credit card. A very grateful Mrs. Friedman gladly takes up the opportunity and purchases the mattresses. Her intention is to make the credit card payments accrued to Mrs. Goldstein’s card until she can pay off the balance and interest for the mattresses.

Without either lady realizing it, they have now created a major halachic problem. The credit card company did not lend the money to Mrs. Friedman, but to Mrs. Goldstein, whose name is on the card. For this reason, what has transpired here is that two loans have taken place, both with interest: one from the credit card company to Mrs. Goldstein, and a second from Mrs. Goldstein to Mrs. Friedman. If Mrs. Friedman makes payments directly to the credit card company, she will be repaying Mrs. Goldstein’s loan to the credit company and her own loan to Mrs. Goldstein simultaneously. Thus, she is now paying her loan to Mrs.Goldstein with interest and  both well-meaning ladies will have violated the laws against ribbis (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 168:17). The parties involved should immediately consult a halachic authority who understands the halachos of ribbis well, since there are several ways that the situation described above can be rectified. (The different ways to alleviate the problem might depend on the individual’s circumstances, and are beyond the scope and length of this article.)

A similar problem often happens in a business partnership, in which one partner has access to a credit line and borrows money from the credit line for the benefit of the business. Since the credit line is in his name and not that of the business, without realizing it, he has borrowed money from the bank and then loaned it to the business, in which he is only one partner. Thus, he is now considered to be charging his partners for interest on a loan he has made to them. Again, this problem can be alleviated with a heter iska.

What is a heter iska?

A heter iska is a halachically approved way of restructuring a loan or debt so that it is some form of business deal that is not a loan. There are numerous ways of making a heter iska, and, indeed, different situations call for different types of heter iska. It is important for everyone who is involved in any type of business dealings to understand the fundamental principle of every heter iska: That a heter iska restructures the loan so that it is an investment or acquisition, rather than a loan.

Borrowing from Jewish-owned banks

Many people borrow money from banks, mortgage companies, credit card companies (including stores), brokerages, and credit unions, without verifying whether they are owned by a Jewish controlling interest. Without using a heter iska, it is forbidden to borrow money with interest from any Jewish-owned business, even if it is incorporated. Although there are some poskim who permit lending money to a corporation without a heter iska, as will be explained later in this article, this author is unaware of any posek who permits borrowing from a Jewish-owned corporation, without a heter iska.

Corporations

Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that it is permitted to lend money to a Jewish-owned corporation, without incurring a problem of ribbis. In Rav Moshe’s opinion, a loan must have an individual who is responsible to pay for it. When a corporation borrows, no individual is responsible to pay for the loan. Therefore, Rav Moshe contends that a loan to a corporation does not incur the prohibition of ribbis, provided that no individual personally guarantees the loan (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:63). It should be noted that many other poskim do not agree with this lenience of Rav Moshe, contending that there can be ribbis even when a corporation borrows money (see extensive discussion in Bris Yehudah pg. 138). One practical difference is that, according to Rav Moshe, it is permitted to have a savings account in a Jewish-owned bank without having a heter iska, whereas, according to the other opinions, it is forbidden. However, according to all opinions it is forbidden to borrow from a Jewish-owned bank, credit union or brokerage without a heter iska. Thus, one may not buy stocks on margin from a Jewish-owned brokerage without a heter iska.

Hashkafah of Ribbis

The mitzvah of Ribbis poses an interesting hashkafah question. Why does the Torah forbid making a profit from my money? The Torah encourages earning a livelihood, so what is wrong with earning a profit from lending out money?

Many answers are offered to this question. Kli Yakar presents the following approach: When a farmer plows and plants his field, he knows well that if it does not rain sufficiently or if a blight attacks his crop, he will have nothing to show for his efforts. Thus, even with all his hishtadlus, he knows that he must daven for Hashem to help his efforts. Similarly, a person who opens a business knows well that even with all his planning, his business may not be successful. Thus, he also knows that he must daven for Hashem to help his efforts. However, someone who makes his parnasah from lending out money seems to have his entire livelihood totally secure. He has no daily reminder forcing him to pray for his daily livelihood. For this reason, explains the Kli Yakar, Hashem did not want a person to make his livelihood this way. By banning this method of parnasah, the Torah forced a person to make parnasah in a way that he must be reminded daily of his need for Hashem’s help.

Carrying in Public and the Use of an Eruv

Question #1:

“Is it a mitzvah to build an eruv?”

Question #2: Public or private ownership?

“Can I own a reshus harabim?”

Question #3:

“How does a little bit of wire enclose an area? Isn’t this a legal fiction?”

Answer:

In this week’s parsha, the Torah recounts the story of the mann, including the unbecoming episode where some people attempted to gather it on Shabbos. In the words of the Torah:

And Moshe said, “Eat it [the mann that remained from Friday] today, for today is Shabbos to Hashem. Today you will not find it [the mann] in the field. Six days you shall gather it, and the Seventh Day is Shabbos – There will be none.”

And it was on the Seventh Day. Some of the people went out to gather, and they did not find any.

And Hashem said to Moshe: “For how long will you refuse to observe My commandments and My teachings? See, Hashem gave you the Shabbos. For this reason, He provides you with two-day supply of bread on the sixth day. On the Seventh Day, each person should remain where he is and not leave his place” (Shemos 16:25- 29).

Although the Torah’s words “each person should remain where he is and not leave his place” might be understood to mean that even leaving one’s home is forbidden, the context implies that one may not leave one’s home while carrying the tools needed to gather the mann (Tosafos, Eruvin 17b). The main prohibition taught here is to refrain from carrying an object from one’s house or any other enclosed area (halachically called reshus hayachid) to an area available to the general public, a reshus harabim. Chazal further explain that moving an item in any way from a reshus hayachid to a reshus harabim violates the Torah law, whether one throws it, places it, hands it to someone else, or transports it in any other way (Shabbos 2a, 96). Furthermore, we derive from other sources that one may also not transport an item from a reshus harabim to a reshus hayachid, nor may one transport it four amos (about seven feet) or more within a reshus harabim (Shabbos 96b; Tosafos, Shabbos 2a s.v. pashat). Thus, carrying into, out of, or within a reshus harabim violates a severe Torah prohibition. For the sake of convenience, I will refer to the transport of an item from one reshus to another or within a reshus harabim as “carrying,” regardless of the method of conveyance.

One should note that with reference to the melacha of carrying on Shabbos, the terms reshus hayachid and reshus harabim do not relate to the ownership of the respective areas, but are determined by the extent that the areas are enclosed and how they are used. A reshus hayachid could certainly be public property, and there are ways whereby an individual could own a reshus harabim.

Notwithstanding the Torah’s clear prohibition against carrying into, from or within a reshus harabim, we are all familiar with the concept of an eruv that permits carrying in areas that are otherwise prohibited. You might ask, how can poles and wires permit that which is otherwise prohibited min haTorah? As we will soon see, it cannot – and the basis for permitting the use of an eruv is far more complicated.

We are also aware of controversies in which one respected authority certifies a particular eruv, while others contend that it is invalid. This is by no means a recent development. We find extensive disputes among early authorities regarding whether one may construct an eruv in certain areas. Some consider it a mitzvah to construct an eruv there, whereas others contend that the very same “eruv” is causing people to sin.

An Old Machlokes

Here is one instance. In the thirteenth century, Rav Yaakov ben Rav Moshe of Alinsiya wrote a letter to the Rosh explaining why he forbade constructing an eruv in his town. In his response, the Rosh contended that Rav Yaakov’s concerns were groundless, and that he should immediately construct an eruv. Subsequent correspondence reveals that Rav Yaakov did not change his mind and still refused to erect an eruv in his town.

The Rosh severely rebuked Rav Yaakov for this recalcitrance, insisting that if Rav Yaakov persisted, he, the Rosh, would place Rav Yaakov in cherem! The Rosh further contended that Rav Yaakov had the status of a zakein mamrei, a Torah scholar who rules against the decision of the Sanhedrin, which in the time of the Beis HaMikdash constitutes a capital offense (Shu”t HaRosh 21:8). This episode demonstrates that heated disputes over eruvin are by no means recent phenomena.

Is It a Mitzvah?

Before I present the arguments for and against eruv manufacture in the modern world, we should note that all accept that it is a mitzvah to erect a kosher eruv when this is halachically and practically possible, as the following anecdote indicates.

Rabbah the son of Rav Chanan asked Abayei: “How can it be that an area in which reside two such great scholars [Abayei and Abayei’s Rebbe] is without an eruv?” Abayei answered: “What should we do? It is not respectful for my Master to be involved, I am too busy with my studies, and the rest of the people are not concerned” (Eruvin 68a).

The commentaries note that Abayei accepted the position presented by Rabbah that one should build an eruv. Abayei merely deflected the inquiry by pointing out that no one was readily available to attend to the eruv, and that its construction did not preempt other activities: Abayei’s commitment to Torah study and the kovod haTorah of his Rebbe. Indeed, halachic authorities derive from this Talmudic passage that it is a mitzvah to erect an eruv whenever it is halachically permitted (Tashbeitz 2:37, quoted verbatim by the Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 363:2). These rulings are echoed by such luminaries as the Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Orach Chayim #99), the Avnei Neizer (Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim #266:4), the Levush Mordechai (Shu”t Levush Mordechai, Orach Chayim #4) and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:139:5 s.v. Velichora).

I mentioned before that the construction of an eruv of poles and wire cannot permit carrying that is prohibited min haTorah. If this is true, upon what basis do we permit the construction of an eruv? To answer this question, we need to understand that not every open area is a reshus harabim – quite the contrary, a reshus harabim must meet very specific and complex requirements, including:

(A) It must be unroofed (Shabbos 5a).

(B) It must be meant for public use or thoroughfare (Shabbos 6a).

(C) It must be at least sixteen amos (about twenty-eight feet) wide (Shabbos 99a).

(D) According to most authorities, it cannot be inside an enclosed area (cf., however, Be’er Heiteiv 345:7, quoting Rashba; and Baal HaMaor, Eruvin 22a,quoting Rabbeinu Efrayim). The exact definition of an “enclosed area” is the subject of a major dispute that I will discuss.

(E) According to many authorities, it must be used by at least 600,000 people daily (Rashi, Eruvin 59a, but see Rashi ad loc. 6a where he requires only that the city have this many residents). This is derived from the Torah’s description of carrying into the encampment in the Desert, which we know was populated by 600,000 people.

(F) Many authorities require that it be a through street, or a gathering area that connects to a through street (Rashi, Eruvin 6a).

Some authorities add additional requirements.

Any area that does not meet the Torah’s definition of a reshus harabim yet is not enclosed is called a karmelis. One may not carry into, from or within a karmelis, following the same basic rules that prohibit carrying into a reshus harabim. However, since the prohibition not to carry in a karmelis is only rabbinic in origin, Chazal allowed a more lenient method of “enclosing” it.

Can One “Enclose” a Reshus Harabim?

As I mentioned earlier, carrying within a true reshus harabim is prohibited min haTorah – for this reason, a standard eruv does not permit carrying in such an area (Eruvin 6b). Nevertheless, large doors that restrict public traffic transform the reshus harabim into an area that one can enclose with an eruv. According to some authorities, the existence of these doors and occasionally closing them is sufficient for the area to lose its reshus harabim status. (Rashi, Eruvin 6b; however, cf. Rabbeinu Efrayim, quoted by Baal HaMaor, Eruvin 22a).

Please Close the Door!

There are some frum neighborhoods in Eretz Yisroel where a thoroughfare to a neighborhood or town is closed on Shabbos with doors, in order to allow an eruv to be constructed around the area. However, this approach is not practical in most places where people desire to construct an eruv.

So what does one do if one cannot close the area with doors?

This depends on the following issue: Does the area that one wants to enclose meet the requirements of a reshus harabim min haTorah, or is it only a karmelis? If the area is a reshus harabim min haTorah and one cannot occasionally close the area with doors, then there is no way to permit carrying in this area. One should abandon the idea of constructing an eruv around this city or neighborhood (see Eruvin 6a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 364:2). Depending on the circumstances, one may still be able to enclose smaller areas within the city.

Tzuras Hapesach

However, if the area one wants to enclose does not qualify as a reshus harabim, then most authorities rule that one may enclose the area by using a tzuras hapesach (plural, tzuros hapesach) – literally, “the form of a doorway.”(However, note that Shu”t Mishkenos Yaakov #120 s.v. Amnom and Shu”t Mishnas Rav Aharon #6 s.v. Kuntrus Be’Inyanei Eruvin paragraph #2 both forbid using a tzuras hapesach in many places that other poskim permit.)

A tzuras hapesach consists of two vertical side posts and a horizontal “lintel” that passes directly over them, thus vaguely resembling a doorway. According to halacha, a tzuras hapesach successfully encloses a karmelis area, but it cannot permit carrying in a true reshus harabim (Eruvin 6a). Using tzuros hapesach is the least expensive and most discreet way to construct an eruv. In a future article, I hope to explain some common problems that can occur while constructing tzuros hapesach and how to avoid them, and some important disputes relating to their construction.

Let us review. Carrying can be permitted in a karmelis, but not a reshus harabim, by enclosing the area with tzuros hapesach. Therefore, a decisive factor as to whether one can construct an eruv is whether the area is halachically a karmelis or a reshus harabim. If the area qualifies as a karmelis, then an eruv consisting of tzuros hapesach permits one to carry; if it is a reshus harabim, then tzuros hapesach do not. The issues concerning the definition of a reshus harabim form the basis of most controversies as to whether a specific eruv is kosher or not.

I will continue this article next week, bli neder.

Of Frogs and Sanctification

Most people find it fascinating to discover that the great tzadikim,Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah, learned from the frogs in this week’s parsha that there is a mitzvah to die al kiddush Hashem. Stay tuned to find out…

Question: Amphibious actions!

Where do we find that the deeds of amphibians affect a halachic decision?

Introduction:

The book of Daniel tells us the story of the great tzadikim, Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah, who were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to prostrate themselves before the statue that Nevuchadnetzar had erected (see Daniel 3:1-30). The Gemara (Pesachim 53b) explains that their decision was based on the actions of the frogs in Mitzrayim. How and what Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah derived from the frogs will be discussed shortly, but we first need to understand some halachic background on this topic.

In general, the observance of mitzvos is superseded when life is threatened. We are well familiar with the law that, in the case of a medical, fire or other emergency, Shabbos observance is suspended to the extent necessary to protect life. The Gemara (Yoma 85a-b) quotes several halachic sources that demonstrate this concept. The conclusion is that we derive the rule that Shabbos observance is suspended to protect life from the pasuk, Vechai bahem (Vayikra 18:5),that the purpose of the mitzvos is to cherish life.

Kiddush Hashem

On the other hand, there is a mitzvah of the Torah, Venikdashti besoch B’nei Yisroel, in which Hashem commanded us to sanctify His presence within the Jewish people. This law teaches that, when an evil malefactor wants Jews to desecrate the Torah, we are sometimes required to sacrifice our lives. When ten Jews are aware that, under these circumstances, a Jew is being coerced to break any commandment, Kiddush Hashem requires that he surrender his life (Sanhedrin 74b). In this situation, someone who did not surrender his life violated not only the positive mitzvah (mitzvas aseh) of Venikdashti besoch B’nei Yisroel, but he also violated a negative command (mitzvas lo sa’aseh) of Velo sechalelu es shem kodshi.

However, when an evil malefactor is coercing a Jew to violate the Torah, but ten Jews are unaware that this is happening, the Jew is not obligated to give up his life, and, according to many authorities, he is not permitted to. There are other exceptions when one is not required or permitted to give up one’s life, which we will learn about shortly.

The ruling requiring surrendering one’s life is only when the goal of the oppressor is exclusively to get Jews to violate the mitzvos. However, if his goal is to get some benefit or pleasure for himself, there is no obligation to surrender one’s life. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 74b) presents the following theoretical example to define the difference.

Rava said, “An idol worshipper who tells a Jew, ‘Cut that hay on Shabbos and feed it to the animals, or I will kill you,’ the Jew should cut the hay and not allow himself to be killed. On the other hand, if the idol worshipper demands of him, ‘Cut that hay on Shabbos and throw it into the fire,’ the Jew should allow himself to be killed and not cut the hay. What is the difference? In the latter case, the goal of the malevolent command is to have the Jew violate the mitzvah.”

Rashi notes that Rava was discussing a situation that took place in the presence of ten Jews or, as we will soon explain, during a time of persecution. Otherwise, a Jew is not required, and, according to some opinions, not permitted to give up his life.

What about idols?

Aside from the law of Kiddush Hashem that I just discussed, there are other situations in which one is required to surrender one’s life, rather than breach the Torah. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 74a) cites a dispute among tana’im concerning what is the halacha when someone’s life is threatened should he refuse to worship an idol. Rabbi Yishmael rules that, if the situation is in private, Vechai bahem applies, even regarding the prohibition of avodah zarah. In his opinion, one may perform the external motions that appear to be idolatrous to save one’s life. However, when the situation is in public, meaning that ten Jews know about it, Rabbi Yishmael agrees that the pasuk of Velo sechalelu es shem kodshi requires surrendering one’s life, rather than violating the Torah.

Rabbi Eliezer disagrees, ruling that the sin of avodah zarah requires yeihareig ve’al yaavor, meaning that one is always required to surrender one’s life rather than violate the prohibition against idolatry, even if the sin will be performed in private. Rabbi Eliezer derives this ruling from the pasuk we say several times daily, Ve’ohavto es Hashem Elokecha bechol levavcho uvechol nafshecho uvechol me’odecho, that we are required to love Hashem with our entire heart, soul and resources, which includes that we not renounce our belief in Him; we are required to demonstrate our love for Hashem, even in the event that it would require the ultimate sacrifice (Sanhedrin 74a).

Talmudic conclusion

Quoting the tana Rabbi Shimon ben Yehotzadok, the Gemara says that the Beis Din Hagadol, the final authority of halacha for the Jewish people, concluded that for three cardinal sins — idol worship, giluy arayos (incest, adultery and similar offenses), and murder — we always say yeihareig ve’al yaavor. The requirement to sacrifice one’s life rather than violate giluy arayos or murder is derived from other sources (Sanhedrin 74a).

In this context, the Gemara cites the following anecdote. A man approached the amora Rava, asking him the following she’eilah: The warlord of his town had told this man, “Go kill so-and-so; if not, I will kill you!” The man wanted to know whether he was permitted to follow the dictate of the warlord to save his life. Rava answered that the Torah does not permit murder, even to save your own life, because of the following point, “who tells you that your blood is redder. Perhaps the other person’s blood is redder than yours!” In other words, who tells you that Hashem prefers that you survive, when you have to kill someone else in order to do so (Nimukei Yosef ad locum)?

Thus, we see that there are two situations in which we rule yeihareig ve’al yaavor: When saving my life will require that I violate one of the three cardinal sins, or when the intent of the one posing the threat is only to get Jews to violate the mitzvos, and ten Jews are aware that this is happening.

During times of persecution

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 74a) adds a third situation in which the rule is yeihareig ve’al yaavor: When the government is intent on destroying Yiddishkeit, which the Gemara calls sha’as gezeiras malchus, literally, at the time of government decrees, one is required to give up one’s life rather than violate the Torah, even for a “light mitzvah.” What is defined as a “light” or small mitzvah? The Gemara explains that this includes even the difference between the color of the shoelaces that Jews and gentiles use. Rashi explains that the case is when there is a Jewish custom that is more modest. Since the Jews have accepted this practice, if the gentile is trying to get a Jew to violate accepted Jewish practice, he is required to give up his life. It is a Chillul Hashem to allow a gentile to force a Jew to violate accepted Jewish practice, and a Kiddush Hashem to follow Jewish practice. However, this halacha applies only when it is a time of religious persecution.

Rashi’s older contemporary, the Rif, explains that the gentiles wore red shoelaces. Although there is no halachic prohibition to wear a specific color of shoelace, since this was the defining difference in garb between Jew and non-Jew in that time and place, if a gentile insisted that he wants a Jew to dress like a gentile does, one is required to sacrifice his life and not do so.

Sum up

Although when life is threatened, the observance of a mitzvah is generally suspended, in three situations one is required to sacrifice one’s life rather than violate the Torah. The three situations are:

1. Being forced to commit one of the three cardinal sins.

2. At a time of persecution.

3. When someone is forcing a Jew to violate accepted Jewish law or practice in the presence of or with the knowledge of ten Jews.

The latter cases are true only when the perpetrator’s motive is to force Jews to forsake G-d’s law, but not when he is interested in benefiting from the transgression.

Based on the above, let us quote the Rambam:

“All members of the Jewish people are commanded to sanctify His great Name, as the Torah states, Venikdashti besoch B’nei Yisroel, and they are admonished not to desecrate it, as the Torah states, Velo sechalelu es sheim kodshi. How does this law manifest itself? If an idol worshipper will stand up and force a Jew to violate one of the mitzvos of the Torah in a situation that, if the Jew refuses, the idol worshipper will kill him, the Jew should transgress the mitzvah and not allow himself to be killed, since the Torah states, Vechai bahem — You shall live with them, and not die because of them. If he chooses to die and not violate the mitzvah, he is held responsible for the loss of his own life. When is this true? — regarding mitzvos other than idolatry, gilui arayos and shedding blood. However, regarding these three sins, if the idol worshipper tells him, “Violate one of these sins or be killed,” the Jew should allow himself to be killed and not violate the mitzvah.

“When is this true? When the idol worshipper’s intention is for his own pleasure, such as, he is forcing the Jew to build a house or to cook for the idol worshipper on Shabbos… . However, if the idol worshipper’s only goal is that the Jew violate the mitzvah, if… ten Jews are not present, the Jew should violate the mitzvah and not be killed. But if the idol worshipper forces the Jew in the presence of ten Jews, the Jew is required to give up his life rather than violate the mitzvah, even if it is one of the other mitzvos. Furthermore, these rules apply only when it is not a time when the gentiles are making decrees against the Jews. However, in an era that they are, such as when an evil king, like Nevuchadnetzar, makes decrees against the Jews to violate their religion or one of their mitzvos, a Jew is required to give up his life, regardless of which mitzvah he is being coerced to transgress and regardless as to whether this coercion is in the presence of ten Jews or in private” (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 5:1-3).

The Rambam continues: In every instance when it says that he should violate the mitzvah and not be killed, and the Jew chose instead to be killed rather than violate the mitzvah, he is guilty of giving up his life. And in every instance when it says that the Jew should give up his life rather than violate the mitzvah, and he surrendered his life and did not violate the mitzvah, he has sanctified Hashem’s Name. If this happened in the presence of ten Jews, he sanctified Hashem’s Name in public, as was done by Daniel, Chananyah, Mishael, Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva and others like them. These are the holy ones whose greatness is above all others… . However, one who was required to surrender his life, but chose instead to violate the mitzvah and did not surrender his life has desecrated Hashem’s Name, and, if ten Jews were present, he has desecrated Hashem’s Namein public, abrogated the positive mitzvah of the Torah, Kiddush Hashem, and violated a negative mitzvah of the Torah, Chillul Hashem. Nevertheless, since his violation was coerced, he is not culpable of transgressing of his own will and, therefore, not subject to punishment for the prohibition violated, since a person is not punished for a sin performed under coercion (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 5:4).

Elisha, owner of wings

In this context, the Gemara (Shabbos 130a) shares with us the following story about a tzadik named Elisha, who lived during the time of the Roman persecution:

“Why was he called Elisha, owner of wings?” It once happened that the evil kingdom (a Talmudic reference to the Roman Empire) decreed that any Jew who wears tefillin will have his brain smashed. Elisha went through the streets, proudly wearing his tefillin. A Roman soldier saw him and gave chase. Elisha whipped off his tefillin and hid them in his hands. The soldier caught him and demanded that Elisha tell him what he was holding. Elisha answered him that he was holding “dove’s wings.” Elisha then opened his hands and, indeed, he was holding the wings of doves! (We will soon explain why he used this example.)

How could he?

The rishonim ask why Elisha was permitted to remove the tefillin from his head. This was clearly an era of gezeirah, and, as we noted above, in such an era, one is required to give up one’s life even for a custom of the Jews, and certainly for a mitzvah of the Torah!

The rishonim answer that there is a difference between positive mitzvos and prohibitions. Since the evildoers could physically stop the Jews from keeping mitzvos requiring actions, e.g., by locking them up without access to tefillin, there is no requirement to sacrifice one’s life to fulfill them (Ran, Pesachim 6a in Rif’s dapim). However, in the case of participating in a forbidden activity in an era of gezeirah, there the Torah declared yeihoreig ve’al yaavor, that I am required to give up my life. This ruling is accepted by the poskim as the normative halacha (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 157).

Return of the frogs

As mentioned in our introduction, the Gemara (Pesachim 53b) teaches that Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah derived from the frogs that they could give up their lives, rather than bow to the statue. Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah noted that the frogs jumped into the Egyptian ovens when the ovens were hot, thus cremating themselves. Thus, the frogs, who had no mitzvah of sanctifying Hashem’s Name, still did so. Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah reasoned a fortiori (kal vechomer): if the frogs, who were not required to sanctify Hashem’s Name, burned themselves for the sake of demonstrating Hashem’s greatness, we certainly should.

Tosafos (ad locum) questions: Why did Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah require a kal vechomer from the frogs to conclude that they should sacrifice themselves? The event with the statue of Nevuchadnetzar happened in public, and when an incident occurs in public and the evil person’s goal is to demonstrate that he can force a Jew to violate mitzvos, the Gemara requires that one give up one’s life. In such a case, it is a requirement to do so, even for a small mitzvah or even for a Jewish custom.

Rabbeinu Tam explained that, technically speaking, Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah were not required to sacrifice themselves, because the statue that Nevuchadnetzar erected was not an idol – it was similar to the statues that we find in our cities whose purpose is to honor someone. Nevuchadnetzar instructed people to bow to the statue to demonstrate their subservience to him. Thus, there was no requirement for Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah to give up their lives, but they derived from the frogs that it was permitted for them to do so.

In another approach, Rabbeinu Tam’s nephew, Rabbeinu Yitzchak (usually called simply the Ri) disagreed that this is what happened in the story of Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah. Although he clearly accepts Rabbeinu Tam’s halachic analysis, he feels that the statue placed there by Nevuchadnetzar was, indeed, an idol. To answer the question why Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah were not required to give up their lives because of the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, and needed reassurance from the frogs that they were permitted to sacrifice themselves, the Ri answers that Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah could have fled. Their question was whether they were required to flee to save their lives or whether they were permitted to remain, knowing that by staying they would be required to give up their lives for Kiddush Hashem. They derived from the frogs that they were permitted to give up their lives for Kiddush Hashem, even though they had the opportunity to avoid the situation.

We see from this discussion two additional points:

1. Although there is a mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, there is no requirement to make sure that one remains in his location to have the opportunity to perform the mitzvah. However, according to the Ri, it is permitted, and perhaps even meritorious, to do so.

2. We should note that the Rambam quoted above stated that, as a rule of thumb, when the Torah does not require yeihareig ve’al yaavor, one is prohibited from giving up one’s life to do so. This implies that the Rambam disagrees with Rabbeinu Tam, who ruled that Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah were not required to sacrifice themselves in their situation, but were permitted to do so.

However, the Nimukei Yosef concludes that even the Rambam might agree here. When a person whom the Nimukei Yosef describes as a great tzadik sees that the generation is lax, he is permitted to sacrifice himself in order to teach his generation. He rallies evidence for this principle from the story of Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah.

Conclusion

I quoted above the story of the great tzadik called Elisha, “the owner of wings,” and how he earned his moniker. The Gemara continues its sharing of the anecdote by asking why Elisha said that his tefillin were dove’s wings. The Gemara concludes that the Jewish people are compared to doves, as the pasuk in Tehillim (68:14) compares the Jewish people to the wings of a dove that are coated with silver, and her wing-feathers are like fine gold. Just as the dove is protected by its wings, Klal Yisroel is protected by its mitzvos (Shabbos 130a)! May we always be protected by our mitzvos and never have to live through times when our mitzvos or lives are challenged.

When May I Remove a Tree? Part II

The Midrash teaches that Yaakov brought with him to Egypt the shittim trees that would be planted so that the Bnei Yisroel would later be able to leave Egypt with wood to build the Mishkan. There is no halachic problem with uprooting non-fruit-bearing trees for lumber, but there is at times a halachic problem with uprooting fruit trees for lumber or other use. So, this provides an opportunity to discuss…

Question #1: Darkening Peaches

“A peach tree is now blocking sunlight from reaching our house. May we cut down the tree?”

Question #2: Building Expansion

The Goldbergs purchased a house hoping to expand it onto its lot that contains several fruit trees. May they remove the trees to expand their house?

Question #3: For a Shul

Congregation Ohavei Torah purchased a plot of land for their new shul building, but the property contains some fruit trees. May they chop down the trees for the mitzvah of building a new Beis Hakenesses?

Question #4: For a Sukkah

“We just moved into a new house, and the only place where we can put a sukkah is in an area that is shaded by a fruit tree. May we chop down the tree in order to have a place to build our sukkah?”

In a previous article, we discussed several issues concerning when it is permitted to remove or destroy a fruit tree. The Torah teaches that when going to war one may not destroy fruit trees unless doing so serves a strategic purpose, and that in general it is forbidden to destroy fruit trees randomly. In that article, I mentioned that there is a dispute among authorities whether one may raze trees in order to build a house in their place. We also learned that the Gemara considers it dangerous to destroy fruit trees, and, according to some authorities, this is true even when there is no prohibition involved in razing the tree.

A Shady Deal

At this point, let us refer to our opening question: “A peach tree is now blocking sunlight from reaching our house. May we cut down the tree?”

This actual question was addressed to the Chavos Yair, a great seventeenth-century, central-European posek.

Based on the opinion of the Rosh (Bava Kamma 8:15),who permitted cutting down a tree in order to construct a house, the Chavos Yair allowed chopping down the offending peach tree (Shu”t Chavos Yair #195). However, the Chavos Yair rules that this is permitted only when one cannot simply remove some branches to allow the light into his house. When one can remove some branches and spare the tree, the Chavos Yair prohibits chopping down the tree since it is unnecessary to destroy the entire tree. Even though the branches will eventually grow and again block his light, the Chavos Yair does not permit chopping down the entire tree, but requires one to repeatedly trim it. Thus, although he accepts the Rosh’s ruling permitting removing a tree for the sake of a dwelling, the Chavos Yair notes that this is permitted only when one cannot have the house and eat the fruits, too.

Expanding Living Space

The Chavos Yair further rules that the Rosh,who permitted chopping down a tree to allow construction on its place, only permitted this for an essential need of the house, and not merely to make the house nicer, such as to widen his yard or to provide a place to relax.

At this point, we can probably answer another of our opening questions. The Goldbergs purchased a house hoping to expand it onto its lot that contains several fruit trees. May they remove the trees to expand their house?

Even according to the Rosh, they may remove the trees only to provide something essential for the house. Thus, if the need is essential, this heter will apply. (However, we will soon share a different possible solution.)

Some Are Stricter

The Chavos Yair follows the Rosh’s approach and permits removing a fruit tree if there is no other way to build a house.However, not all later authorities are this lenient. When asked this exact question — “May one cut down a tree to construct a house?” — the Netziv,one of the leading authorities of nineteenth-century Lithuania, was not comfortable with relying on the opinion of the Rosh. Rather, he concluded that there are early authorities who disagree with the Rosh and permit razing a fruit tree only in the three situations that the Gemara mentions: When the tree is more valuable as lumber, when it is producing almost no fruit, or when it is affecting the growth of other fruit trees. In the first two instances, it is no longer considered a fruit tree. The Netziv (Shu”t Meisheiv Davar 2:56) provides two different reasons why, if it is still considered a fruit tree, one cannot remove it.

(1) One may chop down a fruit tree only when it is damaging other fruit trees.

(2) Chopping down a fruit tree is permitted only when removing it provides immediate benefit. However, when one clears a tree to make room for construction, there is no immediate benefit. The benefit is not realized until one builds the house — which does not take place until later,and we do not see from the Gemara that this is permitted.

Following this latter approach, it is prohibited to destroy older trees and replace them with new ones, and halacha-abiding fruit growers must wait until their fruit trees are hardly productive before replacing them with new saplings.

At this point, I refer back to the next of our original questions: 

“Congregation Ohavei Torah purchased a plot of land for their new shul building, but the property contains some fruit trees. May they chop down the trees for the mitzvah of building a new Beis Hakenesses?”

What About for Temporary Use?

This case is fairly similar to an actual shaylah that is discussed by the Yaavetz (She’eilas Yaavetz 1:76), a prominent18th century posek in Germany. A community is renting a house from a non-Jew for their shul. The number of congregants is now, thank G-d, exceeding the size of the shul building, and the gentile owner has allowed them to expand the building on which they still have nine more years on their lease. However, there is only one direction in which they can expand their building, and do to so would require uprooting a grape vine. The gentile owner has permitted them to rip out the vine for this purpose. The community’s question is whether expanding the shul is a valid reason to permit ripping out a grape vine, which is halachically considered a fruit tree. The question is more significant in light of the fact that the community’s benefit may be only temporary — the gentile landlord may not renew their lease when it comes up for renewal, and they may then need to look for new quarters.

The Yaavetz ruled that even the temporary use of a shul is a valid reason permitting the ripping out of the grape vine. However, because of his concern that it is dangerous to do so, he advises hiring a gentile to uproot the vine. Since the mitzvah of destroying fruit trees is not included among the mitzvos that a ben Noach must observe, the gentile is not required to observe this mitzvah and therefore it is not dangerous for him to remove it.

The Yaavetz then mentions another factor. In every instance mentioned by the earlier authorities, it was not possible to replant the tree that is being removed in a different place. The Yaavetz suggests that there is no prohibition to uproot a fruit tree if one will replant the tree elsewhere. Thus, he concludes that even when no other solution exists to permit destroying a fruit tree, one may remove it by its root and replant it elsewhere, and then use the land for whatever one chooses.

Saving the Goldbergs!

The Yaavetz’s suggestion is very welcome news to the Goldbergs. They purchased a new house hoping to expand it onto the huge lot that they have that contains several beautiful fruit trees. May they remove the trees to expand their house?

According to the Yaavetz, they may remove the trees and plant them elsewhere, and then expand their house onto the extended lot.Again, I suggest that the Goldbergs check whether this relocation of the tree can realistically be done.

There are a few concerns about relying on this ruling of the Yaavetz. First, I have been told that although the Yaavetz may have known that this can be done, the assumption among today’s experts is that a transplanted mature fruit tree will not survive. Thus, this will be considered destroying the tree,

Furthermore, even assuming that the tree can be successfully replanted, the ruling of the Yaavetz is not without its detractors. The Chasam Sofer (Yoreh Deah #102) the posek hador of early nineteenth-century central Europe, concludes that one should not rely on this idea of the Yaavetz to remove a tree when other lenient reasons do not apply. However, he does rule that even when halacha accepts that one may uproot a fruit tree, if one can replant it one may not destroy it, since the demolition of the tree is unnecessary. Thus, if a fruit tree is damaging other trees, one may destroy it only when replanting it is not an option.

Shady Mitzvah

At this point, I would like to discuss our fourth opening question:

“We just moved into a new house, and the only place where we can put a sukkah is in an area that is shaded by a fruit tree. May we chop down the tree in order to have a place to build our sukkah?”

This exact question was asked of Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, who was the Rav of Yerushalayim for many decades until his passing in 1960. Rav Frank cites and analyzes many of the above-mentioned sources, and is inclined to be lenient, reasoning that the performance of a mitzvah cannot be considered a destructive act. He concludes that one should have a gentile remove it, but not as an agent for a Jew, although he does not explain how one accomplishes this (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim II #102).

Conclusion

Thus we see that there are different conclusions as to when one may destroy a fruit tree for a valid reason, and each person should ask his own rav what to do.

The Ramban explains that the reason for the mitzvah is that one should have trust in Hashem that He will assist us in vanquishing our enemies and then we will be able to use the fruit from this tree. Destroying the tree when this serves no strategic benefit means that we think we will never use it. Rather, one should feel that one will gain from this tree as soon as the enemy is vanquished. We should assume that the area and all it contains will become our property, so why destroy the tree growing there innocently? One should take care of this tree just as one would take care of a tree that is already my personal property.

High in the Thigh: The Mitzvah of Gid Hano’she

In the process of vanquishing his opponent wrestler, Yaakov Avinu was left with an injured thigh. To commemorate this event, the Torah teaches al kein lo yochelu benei Yisroel es gid hano’she asher al kaf hayarech ad hayom hazeh ki naga bechaf yerech Yaakov begid hano’she, “Therefore, the children of Israel may not consume the sinew that was displaced, which lies upon the ‘spoon’ of the thigh, since he struck the ‘spoon’ of Yaakov’s thigh on the displaced sinew (Bereishis 32:33 with Rashi).” As we will see shortly, this pasuk is written with precision, and we derive most of the halachos of this mitzvah from its words.

We see from the pasuk that Yaakov’s injury was that his “sinew” was “displaced.” The word “sinew” is not a scientific term, but a household or butcher’s term. Its Hebrew equivalent, gid, describes stringy body parts whose texture is too tough to chew comfortably, and may refer to nerves, tendons, ligaments, or even blood vessels (see Rambam, Peirush Hamishnayos, Zevachim 3:4).

In Yaakov’s case, the sinew involved is what is known in anatomy as the sciatic nerve, which runs through the pelvis and upper leg, from the lower back over the top of the hip and down the leg, at which point it divides into other nerves. The Torah describes this as the sinew that lies across the kaf hayarech, which literally means the “spoon of the thigh.” This refers to a piece of muscle that lies atop the femur and that has a spoon-like shape. Part of the sciatic nerve lies on top of this muscle, wedged against the bone socket on the other side. The Torah prohibits the consumption of this nerve, notwithstanding that it is not tasty, nor really edible. (It is not technically accurate to translate kaf hayarech as the socket, since the socket is above or in front of the femur [depending on whether we are describing a two-legged or a four-legged animal] and above or in front of the sciatic nerve. I will note that this is not the only mistranslation of this verse I have found in works that are reputed to be authoritative.)

This mitzvah is not mentioned anywhere else in the Torah. According to the Sefer Hachinuch, which lists the mitzvos in the order of their appearance in the Torah, this is the third mitzvah and the first lo saaseh of the 613 mitzvos. An entire chapter of Mishnayos, the seventh chapter of Chullin, is devoted to this mitzvah. Let us understand its details.

Not for the birds

The Mishnah states that the prohibition of gid hano’she does not apply to birds, because they do not have a “kaf,” which I have translated as the “spoon” of the thigh. Although birds have both a femur and a sciatic nerve, they are excluded from the prohibition of gid hano’she because the shape of their bones and muscles is different and does not fit the Torah’s description of the mitzvah (Rambam, Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:4). The Rambam (Commentary to the Mishnah) explains that the reason for this law is because the structure of the bird’s leg is very different from that of a man, and therefore not reminiscent of the miracle that occurred to Yaakov. (Those who would like to see an explanation of the Talmudic passage involved should look at the encyclopedic work Sichas Chullin and other contemporary works.)

The Gemara (Chullin 92b) discusses whether the halacha exempting birds from the prohibition of gid hano’she is true if a particular individual bird has an unusually shaped leg that resembles the “socket” of an animal, or, conversely, if the prohibition of gid hano’she still applies if an animal’s leg is misshapen, such that the muscle on its upper femur is not shaped like a spoon. The Gemara does not reach a conclusion on this question. Since it is an unresolved halachic issue germane to a Torah prohibition, a safek de’oraysa, the Rambam (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:4) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 65:5) conclude that both of these instances are prohibited.

Non-kosher species

Is the prohibition of gid hano’she limited to kosher species, or does it apply also to non-kosher species? This is actually a dispute among tanna’im. Rabbi Shimon contends that the prohibition of gid hano’she is limited to kosher species, whereas the tanna’im who disagree with him contend that the prohibition of gid hano’she applies equally to non-kosher species. In their opinion, the sciatic nerve of a horse, camel, pig or donkey is included in the prohibition of gid hano’she. The Rambam (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:5) rules like Rabbi Shimon.

What difference does it make whether this sinew is prohibited as a gid hano’she, when it will be prohibited anyway as non-kosher? The answer is that since sinews have no flavor on their own, according to the opinion we will soon explain that ein begiddin benosein taam, sinews from a non-kosher species are not prohibited min haTorah. However, the gid hano’she would be prohibited min haTorah, according to the tanna’im who disagree with Rabbi Shimon.

Which thigh?

A person has two sciatic nerves, one on each leg. The verse implies that Yaakov was wounded on only one side. Which of his sciatic nerves was injured? Nothing overt in the story tells us. However, we can prove what happened from a passage of the Gemara, although we may be left to wonder how the Gemara knew this. There is a dispute among the tanna’im (Chullin 91a) whether the prohibition of gid hano’she applies to the sinews of both the right and left sides, or only to that of the right side. Both opinions understand that Yaakov was injured only in his right thigh. The question is whether Hashem prohibited the sciatic nerves of both sides so that we remember what happened, or only the one on the right thigh. We follow the opinion that it applies to both sides (Rambam, Hilchos Ma’achalos Asurus 8:1).

Inner and outer

On each thigh, there are actually two sinews that can be called the gid hano’she and are near one another. The inner gid, thus called because it runs alongside the bone on the interior of the animal, is the true gid hano’she, whose consumption is prohibited by the Torah. The outer gid does not lie on top of the thigh and is therefore not prohibited min haTorah. Nevertheless, Chazal prohibited eating the outer gid, also (Chullin 91a).

The tanna’im dispute how much of the inner gid is prohibited min haTorah. Rabbi Meir contends that the entire nerve is prohibited min haTorah (Chullin 92b), whereas the chachamim contend that, min haTorah, only the part of the gid lying atop the thigh bone is prohibited. In their opinion, the rest of the gid is prohibited only miderabbanan. A third opinion, that of Rabbi Yehudah, contends that the rest of the nerve is not prohibited even miderabbanan, and, therefore, he did not require its removal (Chullin 92b, 96a).

The dispute among the tanna’im appears to be how one translates the words of the Torah, the children of Israel may not consume the sinew that was displaced, which lies upon the “spoon” of the thigh. According to Rabbi Meir, the Torah is merely explaining the location of this sinew, but it is prohibited in its entirety. According to the other tanna’im, the prohibition is limited to the part of the sinew that “lies atop” the thigh, but not its continuation.

“Fat of the gid

The sciatic nerve lies protected in a layer of fat. This fat is called shumano shel gid and is permitted min haTorah. However, already in the time of the Gemara it was established practice not to eat it (Chullin 91a). It is therefore treated halachically as an issur derabbanan, a rabbinically established prohibition, and it must be removed together with both the inner and the outer giddin.

How early?

The tanna’im also dispute whether the prohibition of gid hano’she began already in the days of Yaakov Avinu, or whether it was first prohibited when the Jews received the Torah at Har Sinai (Mishnah, Chullin 100b).

Chayos

The Mishnah teaches that the mitzvah of gid hano’she applies to all kosher mammals. This includes the species of beheimah and of chayah. In other words, although there are mitzvos that apply to beheimah but not to chayah, and vice versa, the mitzvah of gid hano’she applies to both.

It is difficult to define the differences between beheimah and chayah.  Although we know that beheimah includes cattle and sheep, whereas chayah includes deer and antelope, the common definition of beheimah as domesticated species, and chayah as wild or non-domesticated species, is not halachically accurate. For example, reindeer, which qualify as chayah, are domesticated, whereas wisents and Cape buffalo, which are not domesticated, are probably varieties of beheimah. A more complicated, but far more accurate, definition of beheimah is a halachically recognized genus or category in which most common species qualify as livestock, and chayah is a halachically recognized genus or category in which most common species are not usually livestock.

The Gemara explains that it is dependent on the type of horn that the animal displays, but the terminology the Gemara uses to explain this is unclear and subject to disputes among the rishonim. Since we are uncertain which species are considered beheimah and which are considered chayah, we are stringent. This means any species of which we are uncertain is treated lechumra as both beheimah and chayah — unless we have a mesorah, an oral tradition, about the halachic status of this species (see Shach, Yoreh Deah 80:1, as explained by the Pri Megadim).

Cheilev

The Torah forbade consumption of certain internal fats, called cheilev — these are attached predominantly to the stomachs and the kidneys. Since the Torah prohibits consuming both cheilev and the gid hano’she, these forbidden parts must be removed from an animal before its meat can be eaten. This process is called “traberen,” a Yiddish word that derives from tarba, the Aramaic word for cheilev. The Hebrew word for the process is “nikur,” excising, and the artisan who possesses the skill to properly remove it is called a menakeir. It is interesting to note that the Rema (Yoreh Deah 64:7 and 65:8) points out in two different places that nikur cannot be learned from a text, only through apprenticeship.

Cheilev versus gid hano’she

There is a major difference between gid hano’she and the prohibition of cheilev. The prohibition of cheilev applies to species of beheimah, but not to chayah (Mishnah Chullin 89b). Thus, we have a difference in halacha between gid hano’she and cheilev, in that gid hano’she is prohibited in a chayah, whereas its cheilev is permitted.

This is germane in practical halacha. Because of the difficulty in removing all the cheilev correctly, many communities have the halachic custom not to traber the hindquarters, but, instead, to sell them to gentiles as non-kosher. However, many contemporary authorities have ruled that even those who have accepted this practice may still traber the hindquarters of a deer, which is definitely a chayah, to remove the gid hano’she, since the cheilev of a chayah is permitted. This is because the gid hano’she that is prohibited min haTorah is relatively easy to remove and does not involve as serious halachic issues as does the cheilev. Notwithstanding this heter, there is still a requirement that one who trabers the gid hano’she of a deer may do so only if he has been trained in performing this nikur.

The Mishnah

Having established the basic rules from the pasuk itself, we can now analyze more of the halachos of this mitzvah. An entire chapter of Mishnayos, the seventh chapter of Chullin, is devoted to understanding it. The opening Mishnah of this chapter begins as follows: (The prohibition of) gid hano’she applies both in Eretz Yisroel and in chutz la’aretz, both during the times of the Beis Hamikdash and when there is no Beis Hamikdash, regarding both chullin and sanctified offerings. It applies both to beheimos and to chayos, to both the right thigh and the left thigh. But it does not apply to birds, because they do not have a kaf.

The Gemara asks why the Mishnah needed to report that the prohibition of gid hano’she applies to kodoshim. Since animals are born as chullin, at the time of birth the animal’s sciatic nerve becomes prohibited as gid hano’she. Why would we think that the prohibition of gid hano’she might disappear when the animal is declared to be holy?

To resolve this difficulty, the Gemara proposes the following solution: There is a dispute among tanna’im referred to as yesh begiddin benosein taam, sinews have flavor, or ein begiddin benosein taam, sinews do not have flavor. “Sinews” refer to the parts of an animal that are not tasty, but are eaten incidentally while consuming the tasty meat. The dispute is as follows: Since sinews are eaten only as part of a piece of meat, are they considered food? If they are not considered food, then other prohibitions, such as the mixing of meat and milk, or the prohibition of non-kosher species, do not apply to them min haTorah, since these prohibitions apply only to edible parts of an animal.

Thus, regarding the giddin of a kodoshim animal, if giddin are not considered food (ein begiddin benosein taam), then the prohibition of kodoshim does not apply.  However, the sciatic nerve of a kodoshim animal is prohibited because of the prohibition of gid hano’she. The Shulchan Aruch concludes that ein begiddin benosein taam (Yoreh Deah 65:9).

Jewish identification

It is very interesting to note that, at times in Jewish history, the mitzvah of gid hano’she became the identifying characteristic of the Jew. Kaifeng, China, is a city of 4.5 million people on the southern bank of the Yellow River that attracts much tourism for its rich history. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, Kaifeng was the capital of China, and, for this reason, the city is known as one of the Seven Ancient Capitals of China. As history notes, when there are a lot of people, there is money to be earned, and when there is money to earn, one will usually find Jews.

At one point, over a thousand years ago, Jewish merchants from Persia and India settled in the area, created for themselves a Jewish community, and built shullen. Their shullen faced west toward Yerushalayim. Unfortunately, with the passing centuries, their descendants became completely intermarried and assimilated into the Chinese population. To this day, about 1,000 Kaifeng residents claim Jewish ancestry.

What does this have to do with the mitzvah of gid hano’she? The answer is that the Chinese identified the Jews with the practice of removing the gid hano’she, referring to Jews as the sinew-plucking people. Until recently, there was even a street in Kaifeng called “The Lane of the Sinew-Plucking Religion,” a reference to the Jews who once lived there.

Jewish American identification

Not only the Chinese identified the Jews because of the mitzvah of gid hano’she. Many years ago, when I was a rav in a small community in the United States, a non-observant Jew was interested in making a strictly kosher wedding for his daughter, because he had frum friends whom he wanted to accommodate. His daughter was willing to have a kosher wedding, as long as it did not look “too kosher.” I asked her what she meant that it should not look “too kosher,” to which she answered: “No ribs and no briskets.” I had been unaware that, to someone who did not keep kosher, forequarters meat, such as rib and brisket, is associated with “kosher-looking,” whereas hindquarters meat, not consumed in many places because of the difficulties in removing the gid hano’she and the cheilev, is viewed as “non-kosher looking.” Thus, the prohibition of gid hano’she defined a Jewish menu. (Fortunately, the executive chef of the hotel doing the kosher catering provided ideas for a perfectly kosher and very delicious meal that would, by the bride’s definition, not look too kosher.)

Conclusion

Although above I translated the word noshe as “displaced,” which is the approach of Rashi and therefore the most common rendering, Rav Hirsch understands that the root of the word noshe, similar to no’she, a creditor, means submission and powerlessness. Yaakov’s gid had been dislodged by his adversary; he was unable to control the muscle that moves the bone. The nerve, muscle and bone all existed, but their use was temporarily hampered. Thus, the gid hano’she denotes temporary relinquishment, but not permanent loss. Ya’akov is a no’she, a creditor, who has quite a large account to settle with Eisav and his angel.

To quote the Sefer Hachinuch: The underlying understanding of this mitzvah is to hint to the Jewish people that, while in the exile, although we will undergo many difficulties from the other nations, and particularly the descendants of Eisav, we should remain secure that we will not be lost as a people. At some point in the future, our offspring will rise and a redeemer will arrive to free us from our oppressor. By always remembering this concept through the observance of this mitzvah, we will remain strong in our faith and our righteousness will remain forever!

Certainly some very powerful food for thought the next time we sit down to a fleishig meal and note that we are eating only “kosher cuts!”

 

Follow the Ladder

Question #1: Ladders

“May I use a ladder on Yom Tov?”

Question #2: Maris ayin

“What is the ‘maris ayin conundrum’?”

Question #3 Chutes

“Is there a traditional source for the modern Hebrew word magleisha, which means a sliding board or a chute, or the word miglashayim, which means skis?”

Introduction

Since Yaakov Avinu witnessed the angels going up and down a ladder, it seems an appropriate week to discuss halachos germane to ladders. To begin, let us analyze a passage of Gemara that discusses ladders.

The ladder carrier

In our day of refrigeration and freezers, it is unusual for someone to shecht meat on Yom Tov. However, since the halacha is that one may prepare food on Yom Tov, this law permits not only kneading dough, chopping up vegetables, turning up a fire and cooking, but permits also shechting on Yom Tov. After all, freezing meat is only the second best way of keeping it fresh from spoilage. The best method is to keep the bird or animal alive, and this was common practice in the time of the Mishnah and Gemara. It was also the reason that, until the modern era, ships at sea kept a herd of livestock on board, to make sure that the crew did not starve on the high seas. (The British were also noted for keeping a supply of limes on board, but that was for a reason beyond the discussion of our current article.)

In this context, we find the following Mishnah (Beitzah 9a) regarding someone who is interested in preparing doves for his Yom Tov seudah: “Beis Shammai says that you may not move a ladder from one dovecote to another, but it is permitted to lean it from one window to another, and Beis Hillel permits (moving the ladder).”

What is wrong with moving a ladder on Yom Tov? After all, one is permitted to carry on Yom Tov, and one is permitted to shecht the birds for a Yom Tov seudah. So, why can’t I carry the ladder to get the birds down?

The Gemara cites several approaches to explain the dispute between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel. Two of these approaches, which we will call “approach #1” and “approach #2,” understand that the dispute involves the principle called maris ayin, the requirement to avoid raising suspicion that one is doing wrong. Beis Shammai is concerned that a person observing someone carrying a ladder on Yom Tov may think that the latter is taking his ladder to repair his roof, which is, of course, forbidden on Yom Tov.

The Gemara explains that everyone agrees that one may not carry a large ladder which would ordinarily be used for roof repair. Carrying such a ladder would entail maris ayin.  The dispute between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel concerns whether one may carry a small ladder, more likely used for getting doves than for roof work.  Approach #1 contends that Beis Hillel permits carrying a small ladder in a private place, but not in public, whereas Beis Shammai prohibits carrying the small ladder even in private. This opinion understands that Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel disagree about the following principle: Is maris ayin prohibited only in a public place, where there is a greater likelihood that someone will misinterpret the action, or even in a private place, notwithstanding that it is unlikely that someone will see this action and will think that the carrier is planning to violate halacha (see Ran, Shabbos 146b; note that the Mishnah Berurah 301:165 appears to have understood this dispute in a different way)? Beis Shammai contends that maris ayin is prohibited, even when the act is performed in a private area, completely out of view. The Gemara calls such a private area, bechadrei chadarim, in the innermost room.

Some rishonim draw a distinction between a situation in which an observer might think that someone is violating a Torah law, as opposed to one in which the action being done in private would violate only a rabbinic injunction, in which case one does not need to be concerned (Tosafos, Kesubos 60a s.v. Mema’achan; Tosafos, Moed Katan 8b s.v. Umenasran). However, other rishonim do not draw this distinction (Rashba, Ran, Beitzah ad loc.). The accepted halachic authorities appear to follow the lenient approach, meaning that if the violation is only rabbinic one does not need to be concerned (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 336:9; Taz, Orach Chayim 243:3, 301:28, 336:9; Magen Avraham 301:56; Mishnah Berurah 301:165; Biur Halacha ad locum s.v. Bechadrei. See also Rema, Yoreh Deah 87:3,4; Pri Chodosh ad locum; cf. Rambam, Hilchos Shemittah veYoveil 2:1; Shach, Yoreh Deah 87:6,8).

Maris ayin conundrum

I want to call attention to the fact that the concept of maris ayin is a fascinating curiosity, because it contradicts another important Torah mitzvah – to judge people favorably. This mitzvah requires us to judge a Torah Jew favorably when we see him act in a questionable way. (For further information on the mitzvah of judging people favorably, see Shaarei Teshuvah of Rabbeinu Yonah, 3:218.) If everyone judges others favorably at all times, there should be no reason for the law of maris ayin. Yet, we see that the Torah is concerned that someone may judge a person unfavorably and suspect him of violating a mitzvah. Indeed, a person’s actions must be above suspicion; at the same time, people who observe him act suspiciously are required to judge him favorably.

Tall ladders

At this point, we can now answer our opening question: “May I use a ladder on Yom Tov?” The answer is that I may not use a large ladder that is used primarily for climbing onto a roof, even if I have a reason to use it on Yom Tov that would, otherwise, be acceptable. It is unclear from the Mishnah and Gemara whether or not I may use a smaller ladder.

Chutes and ladders

At this point, let us address a different one of our opening questions:

“Is there a traditional source for the modern Hebrew word magleisha, which means a sliding board or a chute, or the word miglashayim, which means skis?”

The word magleisha in modern Hebrew, which means a chute or slide, is based on a posuk in Shir Hashirim (4:1), where we find the following accolade: “Your hair is like a flock of goats that descend (Hebrew, golshu) from Mount Gilead.” The book of Shir Hashirim is full of allegories that are to be understood on many levels. Often they express, poetically, the bond between Hashem and the Jewish people and also can be explained on a literal level, as depictive of the relationship between a man and a woman.

Har Gilad, or Mount Gilead, is today in northwestern Jordan on the eastern side of the Jordan River, but was part of Eretz Yisroel at the time when Shlomoh Hamelech wrote Shir Hashirim. Of course, the obvious question in understanding this posuk is – why are we complimenting someone for hair that appears like descending goats? According to Rashi, the accolade is as follows: Your hair has a beautiful sheen to it, similar to the white sheen that one sees from a great distance when observing a flock of white goats descend the mountain.

Seforno interprets the idea of the posuk in a way similar to what Rashi wrote, but there is a difference in nuance between their two interpretations. Seforno writes: “Your hair is fine as the cashmere on the back of the heads of the goats of Gilead.” In his opinion, there is no reference in this posuk at all to descent, gliding, or sliding. Similarly, ibn Ezra understands that the word golshu means “as they appear on Har Gilad.

According to Rashi, the word golshu carries the connotation of “descent,” whereas according to ibn Ezra and Seforno, it does not. Thus, according to Seforno, there is no basis to explain the root גלש as having anything to do with descending, sliding or skiing. Even according to Rashi’s interpretation which provides a source that the root golosh גלש means to descend, there is still quite a stretch to get the word to mean slide, glide, ski, or chute. However, as any linguist can attest, Modern Hebrew has taken many Hebrew, Aramaic or even English and Arabic words and given them meanings quite distant from their origins. However, the root גלש has been used for all of these meanings, and we are therefore left with Modern Hebrew terms such as magleisha, sliding board or chute, miglashayim, skis, and various other similar words. Do they have a traditional source? According to Rashi, perhaps; according to ibn Ezra and Seforno, they do not.

Conclusion

The gematria of the word sulam, Hebrew for ladder, is 136, which is the same gematria as that of the words tzom (fast), kol, and mammon. This certainly brings to mind the piyut, Unesaneh Tokef, that we recite on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in which these three words are inserted in small letters in the machzor above the words teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah, when we declare that they protect against harsh decrees. Teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah demonstrate different steps a person must take to bring himself closer to Hashem. This is symbolized by the ladder, as we ascend one step at a time to bring ourselves closer to serving Hashem.